If you can't take theheat

Silicon Valley shops still don't have the rightwardrobe for sweaty geeks
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The Independent Online

PREDICTING THAT the Internet will change things doesn't make me soundlike much of a genius. Anything but.

PREDICTING THAT the Internet will change things doesn't make me soundlike much of a genius. Anything but.

Net pundits (that would beme) can presume to tell sceptics (that would be long-suffering youall) that you will do business differently, bank differently, stay intouch with family and friends differently, meet new people differently,get into more and varied kinds of trouble differently - and I'm still nottelling you anything you probably haven't guessed.

Not these days,anyway. Almost everybody sees that the Net means big changes, big troubleand big opportunities. You see that, my 77-year-old Auntie seesthat, a guy I bumped into sleeping in an iMac box on the Embankment couldhave hipped me to that.

But I'm not near the Thames just at themoment. I'm back home in Silicon Valley, where it's beenunseasonably hot of late. Summer in the Bay area is usually cool - noone, neither weatherman nor Net seer, predicted that we were going to beroasting in near 100-degree (F) temperatures.

Certainly, noSilicon Valley guru saw this heat wave coming; they saw the Internet, theseismic shift of Java, Linux and lots of other things. But localclothiers don't have enough shorts, tank tops, sandals and bathingsuits for customers sweltering under current conditions. They probably allsigned up for Internet connections - "clothes fornerds. com" andsuch - and they still don't have the right wardrobe for sweatinggeeks.

Which goes to the difficulty of prediction. "Prediction isvery difficult, especially about the future," said Niels Bohr,father of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is famous for its uncertaintyprinciple, which is to say that Niels was maybe only half right. Quantummechanics offers the delightful option of being both right and wrong at the sametime, depending on your point of view. I wonder why more politiciansdon't study the field.

I am struck by the ubiquity of theNet-will-change-everything predictions. The Economist publishedan Internet issue recently (no doubt following The Independent'slead). Stateside, even staid Forbes magazine is launching astart-up, Forbes.com.

Even the serious Valley Sources haveproblems with prediction. Take DaveNet, a Valley e-mail newsletterproduced by one Dave Winer, a quintessential Valley guy. Dave istall, not slender, bearded, brilliant, and unevenly skilledsocially, and lives on an estate in Woodside, on the very classy side ofI-280, aka the Silicon Freeway. Dave lives next door to the singerJoan Baez - sometimes Joan's goats get into his back yard.

WhenDave isn't busy writing code, he produces an e-mail newsletter andwebsite that can best be thought of as a Valley geek's stream ofconsciousness. DaveNet is usually well-read, and oscillates betweenstone gospel and utter irrelevance, depending on the week, day and hourof delivery. Dave writes about everything - major movements intechnology, Bill Clinton's morals, obscure software protocols.But even DaveNet missed the current weather. Dave, originally a Macfan, then a Windows apologist, now embraces Linux. He has yet toembrace the weather.

An article in the aforementioned Economist points outthat big changes in the way the world works have often taken a generation or moreto catch on. The influence of the Net is happening faster than that, Ithink. I, for one, am acutely aware of the world, my world,changing almost daily.

Time is compressing. The last five months feellike five years to me, and I'm not alone. Whole books have beenwritten on the topic. Interestingly enough, the writer and technologistRay Kurzweil says that time speeds up as order increases. He points out thatwhen the universe existed as a single point, as orderly as creation is evergoing to get, according to the Big Bang theory, time moved extremelyquickly. Every billionth of a second or so, you had a completelydifferent universe.

And I am of the mind that the Net is bringing greaterorder and greater velocity to the world. OK, so maybe search enginesreturn 215,200 hits on my query "really good ideas". Even so,I find it's ever easier to fill in gaps in my knowledge and advance my poorattempts at new ideas with the serial contributions of other, moreknowledgeable people, who are easier and easier to reach.

A sure signof this are the changes in the way that businesses are being conducted. TheSan Jose Mercury News reported recently that printers' business was off 30per cent for the second year in a row, here in Silicon Valley. Inparticular, stationery printers have all but disappeared as e-mail hastaken over. Valley printers of leaflets and brochures say business is waydown, and websites are most often cited as the culprit. Businesses usedto send each other purchase orders and invoices; now they just log into eachother's Web-enabled business systems.

So many businesses are doingthis that a whole new category of hi-tech business has sprung up toWeb-enable the older systems of other businesses. These guys arecalled, techno-acronymically, EAI businesses, for enterpriseapplication integrators. And they're busy: businesses seem to have noproblem embracing the cost cutting possibilities of the Net.

So theycan't get the weather right, but they can make it less expensive to bewrong.