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Be on the wave or under it™

The News – 03/14/03

In this Issue:

Recommended Reading

I realize this is the only newsletter you’ll ever need, but if you want more in-depth detail, check out:

Stan Hustad’s
The Coaching Connection

Management Signature's
The Express Read

Nanotechnology and Surfing the Tsunami

Alert SNS Reader John Gehring points out that the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003 mentioned in the previous SNS is (affectionately? derisively?) known as the NeRD Act. How appropriate. Well, as I indicated last issue, it’s more than nerds that need to be concerned with the bill, and with the rising tide of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of substances smaller than 100 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. That’s approximately 100,000 times smaller than a human hair. Many nanotechnologies directly act upon atoms and molecules, and one of the most promising creates structures known as nanotubes.

Nanotubes are made up of carbon atoms that form a circular molecule. You may remember a story from high school science about how a famous chemist, drowsing before a fire, had a dream of a snake eating its tale. He awoke with a start and realized that if carbon made a circular molecule it would explain his puzzling experimental findings. The story’s not quite as sexy as Archimedes running naked from his bath through the streets of Athens screaming, “Eureka, I have found it!” but it’s a bit more metaphysical.

Anyway, scientists can take these circular carbon molecules and create hollow tubes out of them: nanotubes. These things turn out to be 100 times stronger than steel and able to be combined into things like cable and fabric. In fact a company in Japan is readying a fabric making plant that will reinforce the cloth it makes with nanotubes. (Gunze Sangyo, Japan's biggest men's underwear maker in March unveiled a new process to make fabric using nanotubes – in March 2001!) Imagine if your jeans never wore out. Think what would happen to the fashion industry. (Now, discuss amongst yourselves.)

The foundations of more than one industry will be shaken to their core by nanotechnology, and soon — by the end of this decade. Think of the possibilities if you could make cables 100 times thinner. Or if you could make super thick cables of unimaginable strength. How about impossibly round ball bearings grown automagically from raw materials?

In recent nano news (nanoo-nanoo?), Intel announced last September they are working with Harvard and other universities on silicon nanowires and carbon nanotubes, two experimental structures made up of, respectively, self-assembling silicon and carbon atoms. After 2010, one of these technologies could begin to replace standard transistors and over time become the building block of chips. Frankly I think it will be a lot sooner. One result by mid-decade, according to Intel's chief technical officer, Pat Gelsinger, will be that Intel will integrate entire radios onto ordinary silicon chips. As a result, wireless communications will essentially become free.

Think of the changes that will bring as millions of devices start chirping to one another, scheduling maintenance, ordering replacement parts, and doing the grocery shopping for you. The song of the devices reminds me of the harmoniums, creatures from Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan. There were two types: one sang, “Here I am, here I am, here I am;” the other sang “So glad you are, so glad you are, so glad you are.” Vonnegut was prescient. Soon our everyday items will be gaily singing similar songs to one another.

When such technology reaches an even smaller scale, it will also be easy to create sensor networks (like the smart dust project mentioned in a previous SNS), where pint-sized “motes” spread over a large area measure seismic activity, temperature, pressure or other factors. Such networks are being explored today. Researchers are using sensors to monitor how atmospheric changes can alter animal behavior at the Great Duck Island Environmental Preserve in Maine. Typically, researchers have to make these observations directly, which can disturb animals.

To make the teeny chips for these new teeny devices, Intel is experimenting with atomic layer deposition, making chips by piling single layers of atoms on top of each other. The resulting structures rely on chemical properties to self-assemble.

All this manufacturing experimentation is just a small corner of the nanotechnology explosion. Even such primitive techniques as causing an aluminum wire to explode by means of a blast of electrical energy can create nanoscale products. In this case, Argonide Nanomaterials uses the resulting teeny fibers to make an excellent water filter.

Jack Uldrich, former Deputy Director of the Minnesota Department of Strategic and Long Range Planning and author of an upcoming book on nanotechnology, gave a talk in February at the Dakota County (MN) Technical College. His topic was nanotechnology and how Minnesota could capture investment dollars and train workers in the new technology.

Take a look at the implications of the venue at which Uldrich spoke. DCTC is a small two year technical school more used to turning out machine shop operators and networking technicians than super-duper-high-tech technicians. Yet they’ve got the vision to start preparing for the nano future. Way to go! Something’s definitely going on. Even Forbes has a nanotechnology newsletter.

Uldrich forecasted a $1 trillion nanotechnology market by 2015 and listed just a few of the ways nanotech will revolutionize manufacturing:

  • Creating continuously cleaning food processing equipment without the use of corrosive or toxic chemicals

  • Producing non-invasive medical devices or drugs for diagnosis, monitoring and administration

  • Creating lighter and stronger materials

  • Dramatically increasing data communication and storage capacity

Let’s take a look at just one example of this last point, one which shows the convergence of genomics with nanotechnology. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Israel are using DNA to solve complex computing tasks. Think of it: a trillion of these DNA computing devices can fit into a drop of water and a spoonful holds 15-thousand-trillion computers. Not only that, these scientists are using the DNA itself to provide the power to do the calculations by breaking the bonds between the two strands of the DNA helix, releasing enough energy to power the computation.

Is your mind blown yet? Well, just look at the way scientists are now starting to think about computing:

Think of DNA as software, and enzymes as hardware. Put them together in a test tube. The way in which these molecules undergo chemical reactions with each other allows simple operations to be performed as a byproduct of the reactions. The scientists tell the devices what to do by controlling the composition of the DNA software molecules. It's a completely different approach to pushing electrons around a dry circuit in a conventional computer.

Once the input, software, and hardware molecules are mixed in a solution, it operates to completion without intervention.

As Keanu Reeves would say, “Whoa!”

When the researchers get this far out (see the following item on transporting), it’s hard to argue with Raymond Kurzweil’s contention that the rate of change is changing at an exponential rate. As I told a college writing class at the College of St. Scholastica recently, only change masters will survive the coming tsunami of technical innovation. And only those who master new forms of communication have a prayer of surfing that wave.

Be on the wave or under it™!

Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: I was quoted extensively on future tech in a recent issue of the Minneapolis magazine, Upsize, which is aimed at growing businesses.

    A couple issues ago I debuted SNS Begware, an opportunity for you, gentle reader, to express your appreciation by tipping your server via PayPal. See the sidebar for more info. Total in the kitty so far: $35.00. (Thanks, Ken!)

    I’ve reworked the Opinion section, adding a Prediction Tracking page to track the various predictions I’ve made, and also added a Stuff I Said page with some quotes of things I said a decade or so ago on the Net.

    I repurposed and adapted an article about the wireless service known as Short Messaging Service (SMS) for the Reside newsletter. It’s entitled, Wherever they go, there you are and it points out how marketers can use – carefully – this new way to contact their customers.

    I’m featured in Manyworlds’ Thought Leader Showcase, which lists a few of the white papers I’ve done. I’ve also added their fancy icon to the StratVantage site.

    Finally, the CTOMentor wireless white paper, You Can Take It with You: Business Applications of Personal Wireless Devices, is available at ITPapers.

  • The Traveling Wi-Fi: I wrote before about cruising for wireless LANs – also known as war driving – and finding a signal hundreds of feet away through concrete at the Mall of America. Well, I’ve recently found a few other unsecured wireless LANs (besides the one run by my neighbor down the street, who is unconvinced there’s any reason to implement security). The other day, on the way back from picking up my son for Spring Break, I found a wireless LAN while stopped at a traffic light in Mankato, MN (he was driving; I practice safe computing). I got connected and downloaded several pieces of email before the light changed. I also caught another signal on the way out of town, but we were moving too fast to attach. Then, back in St. Louis Park, MN, I briefly caught a whiff of another WLAN while driving down Cedar Lake Road.

    But I found the more interesting WLANs while sitting at gate C21 on the United concourse at O’Hare airport in Chicago, waiting for my flight. I picked up two baggage handler WLANs named BAGSCANUAORD, one on channel 1 and one on channel 6. Earlier in Minneapolis, I had watched the baggage handlers scan each baggage tag with a handheld scanner before loading them on the plane. I guess they use a Wi-Fi network to communicate to look up and match travelers and their bags.

    In addition to these two WLANs, I found another named rsp on channel 6. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), although I was able to attach to all three networks and get an IP address, none of the three provided a connection to Internet services. Although I couldn’t see any other Windows computers on the networks, doesn’t it make you feel a little less secure knowing these WLANs are unsecured? This is despite plenty of press about similar unsecured WLANs at O’Hare and other airports. Come on people! It takes two seconds to take a few basic security measures.

  • Teleportation Is Real, If You’re a Quantum Bit: OK, if that bit about nanotechnology didn’t blow your mind, then maybe this tidbit will. Teleportation is real, it’s happening, and the Swiss are doing it. Of course, I’m only talking about quantum teleportation, the transferring of tiny units of computer information, called quantum bits or qubits, from one location to another. But it’s impressive nonetheless.

    Now the explanation gets so doggone hairy that us mere mortals have to just believe that these guys aren’t lying. Basically, they call this technology teleportation because the information teleported behaves more like an object than normal information. They know they have teleported it because this type of information cannot be conveyed without first being destroyed, unlike, say, faxing a document, which makes a replica of the original at another location and leaves the original intact.

    Nicolas Gisin, a physicist at the University of Geneva, and his team teleported qubits carried by photons—particles of light—of a particular wavelength in one laboratory onto photons of another wavelength in another laboratory 180 feet (55 meters) away. The medium they transported the qubit across was 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) of fiber optic cable. This was achieved using the concept of entanglement, an area of physics that Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” (great, that clears it up!) “If two particles are entangled, they act in some respects as if they were a single object,” said Wootters. So what happens to one instantly affects the other, no matter how far apart each of the entangled particles is from the other.

    Like I said, we’ve kind of got to take these guys’ word for it, but they’re pretty excited, although one of them said there’s no way you could teleport a human because transferring all that information would take the age of the universe to complete. Never say never, my friend.
    Nature (only read this if you’re either a physicist or fond of headaches)
    National Geographic

  • Eighty Percent Annoyed at Spam: A recent Harris poll reported in PC World found that 80 percent of adults online find spam “very annoying.” The rest, I gather, are the same people that watch infomercials and also enjoy smacking themselves in the head with a hammer. The finding is up from 49 percent two and a half years ago. Most people, 75 percent, support outlawing spam. Good luck with all of that. Most spam comes from offshore.
    PC World

  • Sales Taxing the Web: I stated not that long ago that one barrier to finally taxing sales over the Web is the more than 7,000 taxing jurisdictions in the US alone. Well, some folks are working on that complexity. A movement called the Streamlined Sales Tax Project (SSTP) has been working on guidelines to rationalize state sales taxes. For example, participating states have to agree whether marshmallows are food or candy (and I guess candy’s not food, but according to Pres. Bush, War is Peace.) More than 27 states have plans to adopt the new rules and once 10 states representing 20 percent of the population do, SSTP will ask Congress to make compliance mandatory.
    PC World

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Can’t Get Enough of ME?

In the unlikely event that you want more of my opinions, I’ve started a Weblog. It’s the fashionable thing for pundits to do, and I’m doing it too. A Weblog is a datestamped collection of somewhat random thoughts and ideas assembled on a Web page. If you’d like to subject the world to your thoughts, as I do, you can create your own Weblog. You need to have a Web site that allows you FTP access, and the free software from This allows you to right click on a Web page and append your pithy thoughts to your Weblog.

I’ve dubbed my Weblog entries “Stratlets”, and they are available at Let me know what you think.

Also check out the TrendSpot for ranking of the latest emerging trends.

In Memoriam

Gerald M. Ellsworth

March 14, 1928 - July 5, 2003

In Memoriam

Jane C. Ellsworth

July 20, 1928 - July 20, 2003