Thinking Magazine #3 01-07-92

Math and Taxes

Well it's that time of the year again where we all bend over and grab our ankles. (No offense intended for our gay readers.) For those of you who are in business for yourself like I am we get to add up how much more we are going to send the government. We self employed people don't have the illusion created for our wage earners who have it withheld out of their paycheck a little at a time so as to not be as noticeable. I think everyone should get their full paycheck and write their own check to uncle sam. That way everyone can more fully appreciate what it means to be an American.

On our tax form there's this little box that if you check it that one dollar of your tax money goes to fund political campaigns. They also explain that this won't cost you anything or raise your taxes to do this.

Now lets talk about the math behind this concept that the government can spend millions of our tax dollars without it coming out of the taxpayers pocket. Where does this money come from then? Does our government believe that this money comes from nowhere? If this money were not spent on politics then it could go to pay the deficit or any number of other things. I for one am tired of the uncle sam telling me that they can spend money and it's not going to raise our taxes. It's a lie!

So I'm going to consider my tax form as a ballot and I'm going to vote for mathematical correctness and send a message to our government that I have mastered addition and subtraction. I therefore am voting no on the one dollar issue this year and I will continue to vote no until the issue is presented in a mathematicaly correct form. The way I see it, if it isn't going to cost me anything for me to say yes, then it won't cost them anything for me to say no.

Now some of you may wonder about this. You might say, "Marc, this is a serious issue here! Are you sure that your making the right choice? Are you sure this won't hurt America to vote no?" Of course I'm sure. And the reason I'm sure is because even if everyone in the country said no on their tax form, do you think that would affect funding for the elections? Of course not.

The candidates are going to be funded with your tax dollars regardless of how many people say yes or no. It won't change things one little bit. The law that sets political funding rates has nothing to do whatsoever with how many people check those boxes. By having that choice on your tax form you are given the illusion that you have a say so and that your decision counts. It's fantacy! Your choice doesn't mean squat!

Speaking of Math and Taxes it's amazing the tricks they try to play on you. And we Americans believe it because we were taught math in government schools. Here's a common one. Let's say Springfield Missouri passes a 1/2 cent sales tax for three years of capital improvement. After three years they want to renew it for another say five years. What will they tell you? They'll say, "Vote YES, it won't raise your taxes."

Wake up people! This is a lie! Lets look at the math behind this. If taxes are at 5.5% and you pass a three year tax then what is the tax rate after the three years is over? It's 5.5%. If you vote YES then it goes up to 6%. It is a tax increase.

Here's the basic rule of thumb to go by in determining if a proposal on the ballot will cost you. If it cost money then it will cost you. If in doubt, I play it safe and vote no.

Another slick trick here in Missouri is that several tax issues require a 2/3 vote to pass. They are now putting issues on the ballot changing the vote requirement from 2/3 to 4/7. The think I want to know is, what percentage of the average Missouri voters can tell you off the top of their head if 2/3 is bigger than 4/7? I'm not talking about Thinking Magazine readers here. You guys know this off the top of your head. I'm talking about the average registered voter. Think about it.

Telephone System of the Future

There are several political and legislative issues on the table these days regarding issues that will shape the future of telephone communications. One of these issues is caller identification where the called party know who is calling them before they raise the receiver. Another issues are unwanted solicitations made by both human callers and computers. As usual, politicians are not very technical and are making these decisions based on current technology. In this article I'm going to discuss these issues and offer solutions based on projected technology.

First lets define the problem. The concept of caller identification sound great. In fact I want one right now. I would get no bigger thrill than to catch crank callers and turn them over to the police to be slowly executed by torture. Caller ID offers me the opportunity to tie a computer into my phone system so that I can program in numbers that are screened and my phone doesn't even ring if called from certain numbers.

If I'm in a large business, caller ID can route incoming calls to the right person automatically without having to go through an operator. The in-house computers would know who my sales rep is and route my call straight to her. While her phone is still ringing my account information has been accessed and is already on her screen and I'm ready to just place the order without having to spend the first minute on the phone identifying myself.

Police departments would benefit in a similar way. An emergency call comes in. Computers are accessed and the phone number and address are accessed. A map of the city is displayed on the screen with the location of the house and the location of emergency vehicles displayed. If the caller has medical problems on record then medical information is also displayed. At the touch of a button the police department can pass data onto hospital computers and have an ambulance on the way to the house in less than 1 minute.

But there is a dark side to the force. People want to make calls without being identified. They don't want to get on mailing lists just because they dialed a number. There are certain privacy issues involved that are legitimate issues.

So the issue of "Blocking" comes up where I might decide to not identify myself for some reason. And if blocking is available, will this not defeat the reason some customers want caller ID?

First of all we are in an age where technology and phones are cheap. I assume that if I want advanced features I'm going to buy a new phone with these goodies built in, Or perhaps I'll put a new card in my PC and turn my computer into a smart phone system.

Since caller ID requires the transmission of digital information lets assume they do it right and that the transmission is a 2 way link. For simplicity, lets say that new phones have a modem built into them and when a telephone rings it also sends digital data between the rings. The smart phone responds digitally and the phone company computers know it is talking to a smart telephone.

So what happens here is I receive a call from a person who is blocking their ID. My phone communicates with the phone company indicating that it will not take calls from those blocking ID information. The caller gets informed either by an LCD readout on the phone or by digitized voice that the called person does not receive blocked calls. The calling person can then either hang up or the can press the star button to transmit their ID and make the other phone ring.

This creates a full interactive path between the calling person and the called person before the phone even starts to ring and it protects the wishes of both parties involved. Here we are using a technology that could be implemented rather easily.

Let me give you another example. I'm in business and I have an 800 number. I want to sell you something. I feel that if I'm paying for the 800 number that I want to know who is calling me. But you call me up with ID blocking on because you want to know about my product, but you don't want to get on my mailing list and have my sales people bugging you.

In this case I have made the decision that I still want your call but I don't want to pay for it. My phone system sends a digital message indicating to the caller that I will talk to an anonymous person but they will have to pay the phone charges. A voice indicates to the caller to press the star key to continue or hang up.

We can also address the problem of automated calling here. I for one do not want to be call by a computer for any reason. Automated calling systems would have to send out an ID signal indicating that it is an automated call. My phone would indicate that it doesn't receive automated calls. Thus my privacy is protected and the automated calling system can talk to more people who want to receive automated calls because they won't waste their time talking to me.

Again both parties are satisfied. The caller maintains control over privacy and the called maintains control over privacy. But what of the third party involved, the phone company. Where do they fit in? Are they to do this for free?

This is an opportunity for the phone company to make money by providing and charging for enhanced services. In order to be fair about this the phone users should have to pay for the services they use. I believe that in the future that phone charges will be more like computer service data charges where you are billed at a per data packet rate instead of a per minute rate.

Besides these privacy issues, I see the opportunity to provide other enhanced services to businesses and consumers. How much time do you spend playing telephone tag? Many companies have reduced this problem with voice mail. If you just want to leave a message then voice mail is great. You don't have to wait till the person is off the line to leave him a message.

We could add a feature like automatic queueing. This is where when you get a busy signal that you press a button and you are entered into a waiting queue. You then hang up and when it is your turn the phone system calls both of you. That way you're not stuck on hold listening to music for 20 minutes. Perhaps the called person would be able to pull up all the numbers on hold and select the order the calls are returned. Wouldn't this be great!

The basis for my arguments is the assumption that the phone companies are going to enhance their computers and be able to provide these advanced services as customer demand increases. I am also assuming that as the technology becomes available that we will want computers to do more of the work so people can do other things.

The current school of thought among lawmakers is to solve the problem by creating laws to protect consumers against having to receive calls from automated dialing systems. They want to form lists of people who do not want to be called and punish those who call people on these lists. But these lawmakers have no idea how to implement these laws.

Where they are missing the boat is that there is a technological solution to the problem. Where should these lists of people who do not want to receive these calls be stored? To me the answer is obvious. They should be stored in the computers of phone companies as another field in their databases. And if the phone companies computers know my telephone preferences, then when a call come through the system the computers can decide not to route the call.

And what I envision is the ability for the user to be able to set these preferences himself by using his touch tone telephone. Buy dialing a special number you would get into a voice menu system that works like touch tone control systems today. You would hear a voice saying,"

The user presses 2.
Now the voice says,"
Of course if your computer were tied into your telephone then these options would come up on you screen and be selectable from your keyboard. The phone companies computers would send signals to your telephone equipment and would automatically determine how smart your phone is and adjust it's modes accordingly.

This system would be user controllable and not take up telephone company employee time. It would also be a source of new revenue for carriers to offer advanced services packages. And it would be very popular. I for one, would be willing to pay up to $10 per month per phone line to have this feature. Sign me up Ma Bell! Take my money away from me!

This eliminates the need to pass laws to control those who use automated dialing systems and to set up complicated systems of enforcement to deal with offenders. This solution can be easily implemented using current technology and would only require some new programming and maybe some bigger and faster computers. And considering that computer hard disk storage, ram, and computational speed double every year, I don't see where there will be a problem with running out of computer capacity to do the job.

The only law enforcement necessary under this system would be to require those who are using automated dialing equipment to have their originating lines flagged as automated dialing lines so that phone company computers can identify these calls. Lines so flagged can be billed at a higher rate perhaps to cover the cost of using the system. Telephone solicitors would have to purchase an automated dialing service, a voice solicitation service, or a charitable organization service. Perhaps the charitable organization service charges can be donated for some tax benefit.

The point of this is that we need to educate our legislators to think ahead and realize that we are in an explosive rate of technological change and that we need to project this change and make laws for the future based on the technology of the future rather than the technology of the present. What you can do is to print out this article and pass it out to people you know in government and at the phone carriers get them think about it. Tell them you read about it in Thinking Magazine.

The Operating System War, IBM vs Microsoft vs Novell

I wrote an in depth article for Lan Times magazine covering OS/2 2.0 and a number of related issues. Lan Times only published part of the article, the part where I praise OS/2. Here's one of the parts of the article they didn't publish.

The OS war will be interesting to watch as the three giants in the OS business slug it out for dominance. Who will win? No one knows that. And I'm sure there will be a lot of surprises along the way. But we can look at the strengths and weaknesses of the players involved. We can also project possible strategies that each player might use and see how the others might counter these strategies. So lets meet the players!

Microsoft the current champion of the OS market. Their product DOS has sold more copies than any program in history. Microsoft starts from a position of dominance in the OS war. They are running very successful marketing campaigns on both DOS 5 and Windows products. Microsoft also has the advantage in the Windows applications market because they wrote Windows and therefore can use their knowledge of the internals of Windows to give them an advantage.

Microsoft has strong momentum on it's side. There are a lot of people who are going to buy Microsoft products automatically.Microsoft has been the dominating force in the last 10 years and will inherit the bulk of the MS-DOS/PC-DOS business.

Microsoft's disadvantages include being at war with what used to be it's biggest customer, IBM. Microsoft seems to forget that a lot of it's success comes from riding on IBM's coat tails. Microsoft is abandoning it's DOS and OS/2 base and moving all it's eggs into the Windows/NT basket. If NT wins then Microsoft wins. But if NT loses, Microsoft could be in serious trouble.

Microsoft is facing a "window of vulnerability" between the time that OS/2 2.0 hits the streets and when NT is introduced. During this time IBM and Novell will have an opportunity to take a significant market share away from Microsoft. So the quicker NT hits the streets the better it will be for Microsoft.

IBM is the industry giant who without realizing it gave the OS market to Microsoft. Now they are the underdog trying to regain the throne! But don't count them out yet. IBM is a giant company many times as big as Microsoft. They were dominating the computer industry long before Bill Gates was even born. IBM still has a large segment of "True Blue" mainframe shops that will follow them where ever they go. IBM brings with it 60 years of business experience and you don't stay in business for 60 years without the ability to rise to the challenge.

IBM's advantages include their new OS/2 2.0 which is a serious contender. IBM already has "Better DOS than DOS" working and if they get "Better Windows than Windows" they will rule 1992 with the best OS available. If IBM were to position OS/2 as a Windows upgrade they could skim off a layer of Microsoft's business.

IBM on the other hand is a dinosaur. It is still big, proud, and arrogant. IBM may well be IBM's worst enemy. Even though there is a vast effort in IBM to change and IBM is modernizing very rapidly, will they be able to adapt quickly enough to meet the challenge? IBM lacks the ability on the PC side to listen to the market and understand and supply what the end user wants rather than what IBM wants them to have. If a customer asks IBM, "Do you have it in red?" The correct response should be, "Do you want it in red?"

IBM also has an image problem to overcome with OS/2. A lot of people got burned on OS/2 back in 1987 when IBM declared that DOS was dead and OS/2 was the future. Now we are hearing the same thing again and the reaction of many people is, "Yea right! Where have we heard that before."

IBM also has some illusions to overcome. It believes that if it writes an awesome OS/2 that is truly superior that the market will flock to their doors. This is not the case. Technically, OS/2 1.3 is better than DOS and it was a flop. Quality, in this industry, is just a necessary first step. IBM will need to do some very aggressive marketing and image building if they hope to gain a significant piece of the pie.

Novell represents the Wildcard player in the OS game. Small and smart in comparison, Novell dominates the network market like Microsoft dominates the desktop. Even the combined forces of IBM and Microsoft couldn't shake loose a significant share of this market. And Ray Noorda is well known as one of the industries shrewdest players. Novell's recent purchase of Digital Research gains it a DOS that is technically better than Microsoft DOS. It also gains multi-user multi-tasking DOS and FlexOS, which is a real time multi-tasking OS.

Being small and shrewd, Novell has the advantage of being able to move faster and smarter than the IBM dinosaur or the ego driven Microsoft. Novell has another more basic advantage on its side and that's that people are lazy. While Microsoft cries "Windows, Windows, Windows" and IBM says "Switch to OS/2", Novell says "Stay with DOS". What neither IBM or Microsoft realize is that DR-DOS is just a starting point and what Novell really has in mind is a multi-tasking 386 DOS with 4 gig linear address space.

Novell's greatest advantages will be providing ways to add functionality to DOS so that the advantages to moving to another operating system are minimized. As DOS gains the power of OS/2 and NT users will ask "Why switch? I've got DOS and it works fine." Novell is very good at creating alliances and unlike Microsoft, Novell wants IBM's business. If Novell and IBM form an alliance and IBM starts shipping DR-DOS on it's low end machines in exchange for Novell selling OS/2 with it's high end networks, Microsoft will not be a happy camper!

Novell's disadvantages lie in that it has to make smart moves since it has a reputation for being smart. As Novell grows will it continue to be sleek and smart? Or will shear size turn it into a dinosaur like IBM? Or will it develop Gigaphobia like Microsoft? (Gigaphobia is a form of ego driven insanity that happens to some people when they become billionaires. Bill Gates and Donald Trump may be examples of those who are possibly inflicted.)

Another growth problem that may be happening is where you give the customer what they ask for rather that giving the customer something that works. Is Netware Lite a product in this category? I had always considered peer-to-peer networking to be in general a mistake. I had thought of Novell as a company who was above participating in this mistake so that after you make this error you can come to Novell and get a solution that really works. Now Novell is competing in the mistakes market against Lantastic which has a better product.

Now that we have met the players, lets look at possible moves the can make. After all it's not who you are but what you do that counts. The thing that's interesting about predicting moves is that any move has a price to pay and that the real strategy in making moves is to be smart enough to deal with the price.

Microsoft's best move is to get NT on the market as quickly as possible. The longer the window between OS/2 2.0 and NT the more time IBM and Novell have to steal market share in 92 and 93. Microsoft knows this and I'm sure they are working as hard as they can to do it.

But the move Microsoft isn't doing is being a team player in the industry. Microsoft seems to think they can go it alone where even giants like IBM are putting together teams. IBM had to swallow some pride to form alliances with old enemies like Apple and Novell but after 60 years in business IBM has learned that ego has no place in the business world. If Bill Gates were willing to give up some ego there would be a lot of companies that would be a lot more excited to do business with him. IBM and Novell for instance.

In fact it is this writers opinion that the reason Novell jumped into the ring was that Microsoft was making "interesting" business decisions, and that Ray Noorda saw an opportunity to take the DOS market away from him. It is my theory that if Microsoft had maintained a relationship with IBM and had serviced Novell as a DOS customer, that Microsoft would have had a benevolent monopoly rather than a three way war.

Even though IBM is too sophisticated to have a personal ego, IBM is still a very proud company that tends to charge very proud prices for it's products. I am concerned that IBM will do such a good job on OS/2 that they will feel it's worth $200+ a copy and to some people it will. But if IBM were really aggressive about gaining OS/2 market share and priced it at $99.95 retail then it will definitely sell. Especially if Egghead discounts it to $50! Also, if IBM offered a "Upgrade your Windows to OS/2 offer for $49.95" deal, and actually had "Better Windows than Windows" they could take a big piece of the pie.

Another good IBM move would be more internal restructuring where the top executives and engineers spent more time determining what users want rather than what IBM thinks they should have. IBM needs to show up at Netware users groups for the purpose of listening to what users want and need and then go back and fill those needs.

IBM needs to see itself more as a solutions vendor rather than a computer manufacturer. I see IBM as evolving into a service company who is capable of providing a number of third party products that work well together. Thus maintaining their position that "We aren't the cheapest, but our stuff does work! And nobody ever got fired for buying IBM (approved) products."

As to OS/2 product positioning, I believe that more copies of OS/2 will sell because of the "Better DOS than DOS" or "Better Windows than Windows" aspect. At this point I don't think that "Better OS/2 than OS/2" means anything to the masses. If IBM were to include an expanded OS/2 API interface for DOS then developers would use it and OS/2 would be positioned as a DOS upgrade rather than a new operating system. If IBM thinks that everyone will switch to OS/2 because OS/2 is so great they will be making the same mistake they made in 1987 all over again.

Novell's biggest challenge will be growth. Novell made a brilliant move in buying Digital Research and will become a billion dollar company in 1992. Will they still be smart? Will they get Gigaphobia? Who will they burn on the way up and will they remember the people who helped get them there?

If Novell takes the DR-DOS they just acquired and creates a 32 bit 386 DOS with 4 gigs of linear address space they could take the OS market. Unlike IBM, who is burdened with not only DOS compatibility but also Windows and 16 bit OS/2 compatibility, Novell can go straight to native 386 mode software and completely bypass the brain dead 286 chip that both Microsoft and IBM have to support. They would still have Windows compatibility in that this new DOS will still run Windows 3.1. So if you want Windows, buy it.

But unlike OS/2 and Windows the new Novell DOS will still run many third party GUI interfaces which would include Windows, Desqview X, New Wave, Geoworks, and several others making it GUIer than the others.

The critical question here is whether Ray Noorda is capable of maintaining a clear vision of the marketplace despite pressure from IBM to make the kind of mistakes that IBM tends to make. On one hand, Novell needs to be partners with IBM, but while maintaining a distance from IBM so that Novell can produces the kind of desktop OS that we users need to buy and IBM needs to sell.

Novell will have the challenge of convincing IBM that it is it's own worst enemy and that it should trust them to produce what IBM needs rather than what IBM will ask for. In reality, IBM needs Novell more than Novell needs IBM. Novell could continue to sell little red boxes and do quite well at it. IBM on the other hand is in the process of going through serious internal changes and needs partners to help them survive. And Novell has exactly what IBM needs.

This can possibly be accomplished by citing the example of how well IBM is doing with Netware and that Netware wouldn't be nearly as good as it is if IBM had a hand in it's development. Novell is in the position of having the greatest to gain and the greatest to lose and only raw intelligence and business savvy will make the difference here.

So who will win? No one knows! But I guarantee that it will be an exciting game to watch. So stay tuned and don't touch that dial!

This Week in the News

Mayor Marion Barry is in trouble again. Apparently someone was giving him a blow job in a crowded room in prison. A typical day an Washington politics.

CNN quotes a poll that if an unnamed Democrat were to run against George Bush right now that he would win. This is really useful information CNN. What conclusion can I draw from this? Your editors are asleep at the wheel again. Wake them up.

Bush is attempting to jack up the economy for this years election. I wonder if perhaps he is so desperate that he will do something real rather than cosmetic. That is what it will take to impress me.


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