On The Death Of Twitter

Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter for the vastly-inflated price of $44 billion is probably the singularly largest and most rapid destruction of corporate value in the history of American business thus far. While there have been plenty of terrible deals in American history – AOL/TimeWarner stands out as an example, it took years for those business deals to turn sour. Musk has managed to destroy Twitter in a matter of weeks.

While Musk had been known as the visionary genius behind Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX’s incredible rockets and spacecraft, he has managed to torch not only a social networking site, but his own mystique. Instead of a tech visionary, Musk looks like a terminally uncool and out-of-touch shitposter with a boundless ego and an equally boundless sense of self-importance. Because Musk heavily leveraged his Tesla shares, it is quite possible that he could lose control of that company. Given that NASA and the Department of Defense are some of SpaceX’s largest and most important customers, the backlash to Musk’s radicalism could (and probably should) cause him to be ousted from that company as well. And the next time SpaceX needs a capital raise how many investors will see the garbage fire that is Twitter and think that giving Musk more money is a sound investment? Musk’s infantile antics have real-world implications for both him and his companies.

I said that if Musk reinstated The Former Guy, I would leave the site. He did, and I did. What is even more pathetic is that Musk is practically begging TFG to return to Twitter. While TFG would certainly get a bigger audience at Twitter than at his private internet pigsty Truth Social, TFG seems uninterested in returning. Knowing how TFG loves making others squirm, Musk’s pathetic entreaties must tickle the Mango Mussolini of Mar-A-Lago. But given the choice of playing on Musk’s playground or the one he owns completely, TFG appears content to stay put.

Not only has Musk invited TFG back to the site, but he is actively restoring the accounts of every shitposter, racist, and fool he can find. Project Veritas, the painfully unfunny Babylon Bee, the idiot’s intellectual Jordan Peterson, etc. Musk is rapidly turning Twitter into a virtual Mos Eisley Cantina – a digital den of scum and villainy.

Musk’s idiotic business deal means that Twitter needs to bring in roughly twice the revenue it has ever had just to service the site’s massive debt obligations. The math behind Twitter’s debt obligations simply does not work. In order for Musk to keep the lights on at Twitter he needs to find a source of revenue.

Unfortunately for Musk, he has pissed off advertisers to the point that major firms have already begun pausing or even cancelling campaigns. Major brands do not want their ads next to a racist rant from “JewHatr1488.” Instead, Musk has been pushing for the $8 “Twitter Blue” subscription model, that includes some additional features and a “verified” checkmark. However, Musk failed to understand that the purpose of verification was not to make a user seem cool, but to ensure that everyone else knew that user was legitimate. This misunderstanding led to a clusterfuck of epic proportions as people used Twitter to impersonate major brands. If Musk had already been on thin ice with advertisers before, the botched Twitter Blue rollout made things infinitely worse.

Even if Musk is content to let Twitter go without its main source of revenue, the idea that people are going to pay $8 a month for a septic tank of a website seems hopelessly naive. The only value of a social media site is its people. And as normal people leave Twitter in droves, whether decamping to Mastodon, Instagram, or any of the up-and-coming sites like Hive or Post, the value of Twitter drops even more. Most people are not going to wade through a sea of filth just to hear what their friends are doing. And even fewer still are going to pay $8/month for the privilege of doing so. The chances that Musk is going to make enough money to even come close to servicing Twitter’s debt obligations with Twitter Blue subscriptions is naive at best, and catastrophically idiotic at worse.

This does not even touch on the way in which Musk’s has mismanaged Twitter’s employees. Musk’s management strategy is basically “the lashings will continue until morale improves.” The employees that Musk has not fired either as a headcount reduction strategy or in fits of pique have largely left. At this point the skeleton crew that is left tends to be people who have few other options, like H1-B visa holders that cannot leave without the risk of deportation.

The fact is that Elon Musk is someone so desperate for any kind of attention that he will burn billions of dollars in cash to do so. The purchase of Twitter was not a savvy business move—it was a toddler’s tantrum. Musk’s crowing about Twitter’s spiking usage shows how he fundamentally misunderstands his position. Gawking at a dumpster fire brings eyeballs, but it does not bring revenue. Insulting users is not going to make people want to stay on the site, and once a critical mass leaves, the rest will follow. It is quite possible that critical mass has already left. From my experience, most of the people I follow have already decamped to Mastodon. Despite Mastodon’s issues, it is far less toxic.

In the end, Twitter is likely to collapse. There are plenty of ways in which Twitter could die in very short order. The mass firings of engineers could cause the site to slowly break down to the point that people just do not bother. Elon’s blatant violation of Twitter’s FTC consent orders could cause ruinous fines or even personal liability. Google and Apple could see a Twitter that’s become a haven for porn, piracy, racism, and trolling and decide to boot the Twitter app from their respective app stores. Twitter could simply run out of money and have to file for bankruptcy. There are a million ways that Twitter could die at this point and very few scenarios in which the site survives.

Business and law textbooks will no doubt have lengthy chapters on Musk’s Twitter acquisition and its fallout. None of them will be flattering to Musk.

The Network Neutrality Trojan Horse

President Obama has come out swinging for “net neutrality” as his first post-midterm initiative. While on the surface the concept of “net neutrality” seems like a wonderful idea—who isn’t for a level playing field? It is when you get into the details of what “net neutrality” really means and how it is to be implemented that reality intrudes.

Network neutrality may sound good in theory, but it is a Trojan Horse for government control over the internet.

Network neutrality may sound good in theory, but it is a Trojan Horse for government control over the internet.

What President Obama means by “net neutrality” is to regulate internet providers as “public utilities” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act rather than as an “information service” under Title I of the Act. This may seem like a completely uninteresting change, but it means that internet providers would be under a radically different landscape. It would allow the government to regulate essentially every part of your internet provide, right down to the rates they charge. While President Obama has said that the FCC would not go so far as to regulate the rates your ISP can charge, that promise is only as good as the other promises that this President has made and broken.

So why should you oppose Obama’s approach to “net neutrality?” For one, it’s a solution in search of a problem. Advocates of net neutrality paint a picture of a world in which ISPs charge you extra for certain sites and make you pay extra for YouTube or Netflix or certain sites. This picture is simply not realistic. There is little to nothing preventing ISPs from doing that now, and none of them have done so. If they did, the backlash would be enormous. The reason why ISPs have not gone to a tiered system is because it’s technologically difficult and offers little benefit. That isn’t going to change—in fact, in an open marketplace it would be even dumber for an ISP to do that because consumers would have plenty of other options. If you don’t like what Comcast does, you can switch to DSL, satellite, or wireless services. As I’ll discuss later on, consumer choice, not government regulation, is the better path forward.

The other reason is that heavily-regulated industries are not consumer friendly. The internet depends on rapid innovation. A three-letter government agency like the FCC is about as far away from innovative as you can get. Andy Kessler outlines how the FCC stifled the development of major telecommunications technologies in the past due to overregulation and regulatory capture. Right now most broadband internet is delivered through cable or DSL—but wireless internet is growing in popularity. Cellular networks, satellite networks, and future technologies like Google’s Project Loon are changing the way we get broadband internet. If the FCC tries to fit these new technologies (or technologies we haven’t even invented yet) into their old-world regulatory framework bad results will happen. Would Google Fiber exist if Google had to climb through miles of red tape just to get started? No, even a hugely profitable company like Google would say it just wasn’t worth it. Would the next method of high-speed internet appear in a heavily regulated market? Forget it–because when you have a heavily-regulated market the playing field does not become equal, it becomes the exclusive playing field of the big boys who can use political power and lobbying to tilt the rules in their favor.

While President Obama says that ISPs should not be allowed to “block” or “throttle” content, that ties the hands of ISPs to regulate quality on their network. If the teenager next door to you starts flooding your upstream internet connection by downloading gigabyte after gigabyte of data and streaming multiple 4K movies, it would make sense for the ISP to throttle that user. He’s degrading service for others, and that’s a problem. But Obama’s proposed net neutrality rules would leave ISPs virtually powerless to make common-sense moves that are designed to improve network quality. Trying to regulate just when and how a provider could throttle would mean another several-thousand page stack of regulations that just makes the situation harder. President Obama’s bright-line rules may not always work so well in practice.

Finally, a more heavily-regulated internet makes it easier to start clamping down on speech that the President doesn’t like: regulation under Title II makes it easier for the FCC to start regulating content as well as carriage. In this case, net neutrality is the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent. Once regulated as a public utility, the FCC has virtually unfettered discretion to change how ISPs do business. Want a low-cost, low-speed, but high-reliability service for a small business? Too bad, because the FCC will tell your ISP what they can and cannot offer. This is what Ted Cruz inarticulately warned about with his comparison to Obamacare. When government rights the rules, the rules become one-size-fits-all and consumers suffer.

Some of what the President proscribes in not bad. For instance, ISPs should report when and how they are shaping traffic. Markets need a certain level of transparency, and government can create narrowly-tailored and clear rules to provide market transparency. But even this must be done carefully. Even rules designed to promote transparency can be twisted to stifle legitimate competition.

If regulating ISPs as a “public utility” is such a bad idea, why is President Obama pushing it? There are several possible explanations. The first is that net neutrality is a popular cause among major Democratic campaign contributors like Google, Apple, and Facebook. The second is that it’s a technical issue that the public doesn’t understand, and if Obama wins on it, he can spin it to make it look like a political win for himself—by the time the rules are implemented, Obama will be out of office.

What is a better way of dealing with this situation? Instead of regulating ISPs under Title I, the FCC should butt out. There is not a problem with networks blocking content or throttling content (except when you go over a data allotment, which is a content-neutral restriction). Unless and until there is a problem that’s worthy of sweeping regulation, it’s better to leave the system where it is. Instead of proposing a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution written from on high, the internet should be allowed to continue in the same way its prospered: by developing its own rules of the road.

The internet went from being a little-known and seldom-used academic and defense network to being the way billions across the world connect. This happened because the FCC and other regulatory agencies took a light hand in regulating this new form of communication. While on the surface “net neutrality” sounds good in principle, it is when you get to the harder questions that it becomes clear than regulating the internet would stifle its continued growth and development.

Crystal Ball Watch 2011

It’s that time already (where did 2011 go?!)—time to see how my New Year’s predictions faired in the cold, hard light of reality.

Last year’s New Year’s predictions forecasted an unpopular Obama, an unraveling Europe, and a Verizon iPhone. And, surprisingly enough, we had an unpopular Obama, an unraveling Europe, and a Verizon iPhone. On the other hand, Fidel Castro hasn’t yet gone off to his villa in Hell, and the Bush tax cuts aren’t permanent—yet. Let’s see how I did:


  • President Obama, increasingly embittered by the political process and the Republican House, retreats from the public eye and rumors swirl that he will not run for a second term.

    More-or-less right: President Obama made a few speeches through the year, but for a politician that was elected based on his oratory, he’s made himself scarce over the past year. As his approval ratings have declined, the President has been trying to sell his unpopular policies to a diminishing office. But he’s made no bones about it: he’s running again.

  • The GOP won’t have a much better year. Their commitment to fiscal discipline will be continually tested, meaning that there will be plenty of difficult votes on spending in 2011.

    Right: Indeed, the Tea Party-backed GOP has been trying to be fiscally-responsible, but have not been able to do much to slow the rapacious growth of government.

  • Sarah Palin will continue to tease a run for the Republican nomination in 2012, but won’t actually commit to anything.

    Wrong: Sarah Palin is, mercifully, not running for President, and while she remains popular with the Republican base, her celebrity is fading.

  • The Democrats will once again learn the wrong lessons from their 2010 drubbing, and will embrace the far left instead of running to the center.

    Correct: Instead of moving to the center, the Democrats have decided that it’s time to stop pretending that they’re anything but a party owned by the left. Their supportive reaction to the Occupy movement and their embrace of populist rhetoric demonstrates foretell their strategy for 2012.

  • Redistricting battles will end up getting fought in court as the Democrats try to fight to keep as many Democratic seats as they can.


  • ObamaCare suits will be appealed, and will eventually end up on the Supreme Court’s docket. But because Congress will end up removing the mandates from the bill, the Supreme Court will declare the issue moot.

    Half-Right: The Supreme Court will take up the ObamaCare issue in three days of oral arguments this March. But despite Republican opposition, the GOP just doesn’t have the votes to repeal ObamaCare… yet.


  • The last vestiges of democracy in Venezuela will be cast aside as Hugo Chavez extends his emergency rule into a lifetime dictatorship.

    Correct: And even though the Venezuelan dictator is nearly ready to join Osama bin Laden, Mohammar Qadafi, and Kim Jong-Il in Hell, what will happen to the country he has plundered is still very much in the air. But it looks like Chavez will be the Venezuelan dictator for life—what little life he has left.

  • The conflict in Afghanistan will continue to be bloody and difficult. By the end of the year the conventional wisdom will be that Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam, and the future of the US mission there will be in doubt.

    Partially Right: As the mission in Iraq winds down, the mission in Afghanistan continues to drag on. But the media, ever faithful to Obama, has avoided turning Afghanistan into another Vietnam. But if the situation there continues to destabilize over the next year, it may become harder to sweep it all under the rug.

  • North Korea will continue to rattle their saber, but they will stop just short of provoking a full-scale war.

    Right: And now that Kim Jong-Il has shuffled off this mortal coil, and his son is (allegedly) in power, all bets are off for the future.

  • Iraq’s biggest problem in 2011 will be corruption rather than terrorism, and civilian casualties will remain low.

    Right, Maybe: So far Iraq has been relatively quiet, although now that the U.S. has pulled out, the country is once again in danger of flying apart. The fact that sectarian tensions are once again bubbling to the surface may mean that Iraq will be a hotspot once again. Let’s all hope the Iraqis will be able to keep a republic.

  • Fidel Castro will die, and Raul Castro will begin implementing policies similar to the glasnost and perestroika of the old Soviet Union in order to liberalize the Cuban economy and pave the way for a free-market system.

    If Only It Were True: Even though Cuba is very slowly liberalizing, it has a very long way to go.


  • The US economy will improve, but much too slowly. Unemployment will remain high, only retreating to around 8%.

    True: Unemployment has retreated—but much of the decline is due to people leaving the workforce. The endemic level of unemployment is both an economic and a societal disaster that we will be dealing with for a very long time.

  • The Bush tax cuts will be made permanent, and while President Obama will complain, he will still sign the tax reductions into law.

    Wrong: The tax cuts were extended, but have not yet been made permanent. And while Obama campaigns on raising taxes for the rich, he still signed off on extending the Bush tax cuts.

  • The Eurozone will face collapse as the fiscal crisis in nations like Greece and Portugal tug at the Euro’s foundations. Germany will refuse to bail out European banks and will threaten to leave the Euro.

    Right and Wrong: The first sentence was right on the money, as we’ve seen in the last few months. But Germany has (thus far) gone along with bailing out the debts of the countries on the periphery in order to keep the Eurozone afloat—but they will not be willing or able to do that for very long, especially if a large country like Spain or Italy starts failing.

  • The Chinese economy will begin to slow, stoking fears of another worldwide economic panic.

    Not Yet: There are serious concerns about China’s economy, but they haven’t yet manifested themselves as serious worries yet. The world seems more concerned about the situation with the Euro.


  • The iPhone will come to Verizon, and will sell like hotcakes. The next version of the iPad will also come to Verizon, and will be accompanied by a major push by Apple to get the iPad into the business market.

    Correct: I got this one right, but it wasn’t that bold a prediction…

  • The battle between Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS will continue, but the Verizon iPhone will put a serious dent in Android’s growth.

    Wrong: Android continues growing like gangbusters. But don’t think that means that Android is “winning.” Apple does not compete based on market share, they compete based on making the best products and making the most money selling them. On that front, Apple remains the key player. Given that Apple is using the 3GS to try and compete in the entry-level market, they are not ceding anything to Google. Android’s growth seems to be more driven by people trading in their dumbphones or featurephones for smartphones—just try and buy a cellphone that isn’t a smartphone these days, it’s not easy. And most of those cut-rate smartphones that the carriers are pushing run some variant of Android.

  • The SyFy Channel will stop airing real science fiction.

    Correct: SyFy has a few decent shows that arguably qualify as science fiction (I’ve heard Warehouse 13 and Eureka are good), but is basically a dumping ground for B-movies, shitty reality shows, and wrestling. NBC/Universal have completed what former channel head Bonnie Hammer started in killing what made the network unique.

  • Global warming hysteria will officially jump the shark after 2011 sees record cold temperatures.

    Correct, Sort Of: Winter 2011 was miserable, and Summer 2011 was not the scorcher that some were predicting. But despite even more leaked emails demonstrating that “climate science” has become an echo chamber, global warming hysteria has not gone away. That’s because global warming is less about science than it is about creating a quasi-religion, complete with all the trappings.

  • SpaceX will successfully dock a Falcon capsule to the International Space Station and will announce that they will be ready to bring tourists to the ISS before 2016.

    Not Yet: But it looks like they will dock with the ISS early in 2012, and that 2016 date might be optimistic, but it’s within the realm of possibility.

  • The 3D movie trend won’t save Hollywood from declining box office figures and their own creative stagnation.

    Correct: Hollywood’s creative bankruptcy knows no ends: now they’re re-releasing the same old crap, but this time in 3D! Kids, the extra D in the re-release of Star Wars: Episode I is for an extra dose of disappointment…

Wrapping Up

So, I didn’t do too badly on my predictions, although a lot of them were fairly obvious even back then. What I didn’t predict is notable: I wouldn’t have thought that this year would have seen the deaths of Osama bin Laden, Mohammar Qadafi, and Kim Jong-Il. I would not have imagined that the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit dealer would lead to a wave of revolution that would remake the Middle East. I wouldn’t have imagined in December 2010 that Newt Gingrich would have been a front-runner for the 2012 GOP nomination (albeit briefly).

And sadly, I wouldn’t have predicted that Steve Jobs would leave us, even though it wasn’t that great a surprise. Genius is often fleeting.

What a long, strange year it has been—and who knows what 2012 may bring… but that won’t stop me from making another set of predictions for the next year…

Rebooting America

Niall Ferguson has an excellent article in Newsweek on how American civilization can avoid a precipitous collapse. His advice boils down to a proposition that’s simple in theory, but difficult in practice: the United States must return to the system of values that made it what it is today.

Specifically, Ferguson identifies six “killer applications” that made the West stand out from the rest of the world from the 1500s through the end of the 20th Century. He identifies competition, the scientific revolution, the rule of law and representative government, modern medicine, the consumer society, and the work ethic as the factors that led success of the West for five hundred years.

The challenge that America faces, and Western nations face generally, is that at the same time we are turning our backs on those values, other civilizations have figured out that they can copy our success. India, which gained some benefits from its days as a British colony, is rapidly industrializing and developing its own transnational elite. The industrialization of China has transformed it from a Maoist hellhole to a unique hybrid of state oligarchy, crony capitalism, and small-scale free markets. Despite its lost decade, in 50 years Japan transformed from a bombed-out shell to a global powerhouse. Other Asian countries, from Singapore to Taiwan to even Communist Vietnam are combining their cultural work ethic with open markets to power a major economic boom. The 21st Century could see the world’s centers of economic power shift from London, New York, and Berlin to Mumbai, Beijing, and Taipei—and in many ways, this is already happening.

But the biggest enemy that the West faces isn’t other upstart civilizations—it is its own complacency. As Ferguson implies, the rise of the modern welfare state undercuts many of the factors that led the West to success in the first place. For example, a society with a cradle-to-the-grave welfare state will always be a society that has a lesser work ethic. The hard truth of the matter is that if you remove many of the risks of failure, there’s less incentive to work hard. If the state takes care of you no matter what, then why bother with hard work? This harm is not a theoretical one—we can already see it playing out across multiple sectors of American society today. The same is true of competition. Why should GM be truly innovative? They have already gotten bailed out by the government, and their main market is no longer the American consumer, but their government keepers. The Chevy Volt is not a vehicle designed for American drivers, it’s a vehicle designed to meet the artificial mandates of the United States Government. When the state picks winners and losers, the market will start being more responsive to the state’s preferences rather than the consumers.

America cannot simply keep going on like this. Ferguson is right—we’re heading for an “Oh, shit!” moment. The continuing collapse of the Eurozone is a preview of our own future. Greece is just further ahead on our same path.

Hard Choices

In theory, all we have to do is get everyone to embrace the values that made America strong and things will sort themselves out. After all, they did in the past. We survived the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War all in a row, didn’t we?

The problem is that the theory and the practice of “rebooting America” as Ferguson calls it are two entirely different things. The self-absorbed Baby Boomer generation systematically turned its back on the values that made America what it was (and Jesse Jackson got Stanford students to attack Western civilization itself). We replaced competition with a radical and false sense of egalitarianism. We replaced the rule of law and representative government with an administrative state that has sweeping and largely unconstrained powers. We replaced modern medicine with the inane idea that health care is a “right” and that medicine should be free. We replaced the value of the consumer society with a parody of itself fueled by cheap credit. And finally we replaced our work ethic with a culture of entitlement. In short, we made a mockery of our own success. We chipped away at our own cultural foundation, slowly but surely undermining it.

But that was the past. The question is how do we go back? And that will be more challenging than anything this country has ever faced. How do we tell an entire society that all the things they’ve thought that they were entitled to they will have to earn from now on? We can’t make minor changes to our entitlement programs without huge controversy? How do we expect to start facing the difficult reality that those programs are fundamentally broken and can’t survive into the future?

To be pessimistic, I don’t see this country making those hard choice until that “Oh, shit!” moment actually comes. We will have to suffer a collapse before the body politic will embrace substantial reform. We will have to face something worse than a Greek-style debacle before things can get better. We are simply too attached to the status quo. In most circumstances, that’s a benefit—we don’t want a society prone to wild swings in the social status quo. Those seeking to change society rightfully bear the burden of persuasion to get people to change. But in this case, our status quo is unsustainable, and the body politic wants to cling to their comfortable illusions for as long as possible. They will not let go until all other avenues are exhausted.

But there is an optimistic side to all of this—if there is to be a collapse of the current status quo, the values that underpin our society haven’t been erased. America is still a land of innovative people. America is still a land with an incredible work ethic. America is still a nation, and will be so even if the state were to evaporate overnight. If tomorrow Washington DC were hit by a rogue asteroid and the entire federal government were to stop, America would not stop running. We would form voluntary organizations to take care of each other—it’s what we’ve always done. In fact, many of those voluntary organizations would be better off than they would be if the state could coopt them as it so frequently does.

Starting from the Ground Up

Can America reboot itself? It is possible, but it is going to require this country to make substantial sacrifices and be willing to make substantial changes. Our political system is not designed for that. Ultimately, if we want to look to Washington D.C. for change, we will never find it. The changes necessary to reboot America are not going to come from the halls of government, they will come from the people.

The fact is that culture influences politics much more strongly than politics influences culture. Washington can create some of Ferguson’s “killer applications,” such as enforcing the rule of law, but ultimately there can never be a law that creates a strong work ethic. The focus must be on instilling small-r republican values in the population—which requires strong families and a culture that rewards hard work, thrift, and the entrepreneurial spirit. We can create such a culture, but that takes time, and a willingness to shed cultural baggage from the failed counterculture of the 1960s. And it must come from the bottom up, not the top down.

And that’s the problem. We want easy solutions, and pushing our problems off on Congress is as easy as it gets. Finding out that we are personally responsible for America’s future success is a hell of a lot more daunting. But at the same time, it’s also an acknowledgment of something positive: that we are part of America’s success when it fails. And those values still exist, waiting to be unleashed.

It’s time to reboot America by first rebooting the American spirit, which is the fuel for the engine of American prosperity. We have the “source code” for America’s “killer applications.” It’s time we used it again by first getting government out of the way as much as possible and secondly by working on an individual level to restore our commitment to the culture that makes this country the world’s preeminent superpower.

Steve Jobs RIP: An American Icon Is Gone

There are, on rare occasions, people of brilliance and insight that forever change the world around them. Ford. DaVinci. Einstein. Disney.

Add to that Steve Jobs.

Even though he only lived to 56 years, Steve Jobs changed the world forever. Not just the world of technology, but the way millions of people across the world communicate. He took the personal computer, which had been a utilitarian appliance, and made into into a work of art. That would have been enough for many, but Jobs went even farther. The iPhone transformed the industry. The iPad took an idea that had never quite worked and made it into something extraordinary.

There may never be another like Steve Jobs for a very long time: but the impact he made on technology and culture will live on. He wanted to change the world, and he did.

Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs, and know that your vision will live on.

Can America Do Big Things Again?

Neal Stephenson, long one of my favorite authors, has a crucial and timely article asking whether America can still do the “big stuff” anymore. In the latter half of the 20th Century, Americans landed men on the Moon, cured several diseases, increased the ability for the world to feed itself, and invented the modern technological age. Even in the former half of the 20th Century we invented the airplane, created the Atomic Age, won two World Wars, and survived a depression worse than the one we are living in now.

But what have we done lately? Stephenson notes our cultural and technological malaise:

My lifespan encompasses the era when the United States of America was capable of launching human beings into space. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on a braided rug before a hulking black-and-white television, watching the early Gemini missions. This summer, at the age of 51—not even old—I watched on a flatscreen as the last Space Shuttle lifted off the pad. I have followed the dwindling of the space program with sadness, even bitterness. Where’s my donut-shaped space station? Where’s my ticket to Mars? Until recently, though, I have kept my feelings to myself. Space exploration has always had its detractors. To complain about its demise is to expose oneself to attack from those who have no sympathy that an affluent, middle-aged white American has not lived to see his boyhood fantasies fulfilled.

Still, I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few. Scientists and engineers who came of age during the first half of the 20th century could look forward to building things that would solve age-old problems, transform the landscape, build the economy, and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy.

Stephenson points out that we are no longer a society that embraces risk in the way that we have in previous years. If we want to advance as a society and continue to provide a better life for our children, we have to embrace the idea that no great advancement comes without substantial risk. Yet our culture, our politics, our whole society has turned its back on the spirit that produces the next batch of great entrepreneurs.

The Lost Spirit Of American Entrepreneurship

From childhood, we are systematically smothering the initiative of our children. We fret about vaccinations (one of the greatest life-saving technologies of the last 200 years), we worry about them falling on the playground. We have overblown fears that any moment a child predator will snatch them up, and we imprint that fear of the world onto them.

We don’t let our children explore the way they used to. The chemistry set has been practically banned out of existence. It used to be that children could learn about engineering and science by actually building things themselves—instead, we encourage children to color inside the lines, sit down, do what they are told, and accept the guiding hand of authority.

That is not how you raise a culture of entrepreneurial risk-takers. That’s how you raise a culture of middle-managers.

And that same aversion to risk continues on in our politics. Our politics is not about the future, but about the past. Look at the Democratic Party: what is their bold political position for the future? It’s going back to the New Deal. For that matter, the Republicans aren’t much better: they envision a return to a more restrained system of government—but they can’t seem to elucidate why that benefits the future of the country except in the most nebulous way.

That’s because our politicians are more concerned about preserving the past spoils system than launching the future. Our political class suffers from a severe lack of vision: instead of bolding charting new courses, our political system has become largely about managing our decline. That isn’t all bad—we don’t really want a system of government that leaps from bad idea to bad idea. But our Founders didn’t want a static system of government either: they wanted the states to retain sovereignty so that they could become laboratories of democracy and experiment with new and better systems of governance. But the creeping centralization of Washington has eliminated the ability of the states to do much other than comply with the demands of the D.C. nomenklatura.

Reclaiming America’s Future

What can we do to restore America’s future? We have to stop placing roadblocks in our own path. What we need can’t be legislated from the top-down, it has to come from the grassroots up. We need a culture that encourages and fosters responsible risk-taking. That requires parents to stop living in fear and let their children learn. That requires a culture that doesn’t coddle future generations, but gives them room to explore. That requires us to stop sliding comfortably into decline and start taking personal responsibility for the future.

We are still a culture that can do great things. We still have innovators like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos who can provide instructive examples. We could, if we desired, return to the Moon and create a lasting human community outside the bounds of Earth’s atmosphere. We could, if we desired, became a nation where great technological leaps once again happened in the garages of individual innovators. There are subcultures in America that are not only dedicated to making things again, but could revolutionize manufacturing for the entire world.

America in 2031 can be a country where small innovators use computers and 3D printers to design amazing new technologies and take them from the drawing board to reality in hours rather than days. Or, America in 2031 can be a country where what few resources we have left are being fought over in an intergenerational battle between young and old.

We can’t hope for government to solve our current economic and cultural crisis—only rekindling the American spirit of innovation can get the economy growing again and allow us to have another period of growth and optimism.

America can to great things again. The question is whether we’re willing to do what’s necessary to get there.

Model Aircraft Are Not A National Security Threat

Recently, the FBI launched a successful sting operation that nabbed an wanna-be al-Qaeda member, Rezwan Ferdaus, who had been trying to provide terrorists with cellphones turned into explosive detonators and who had been plotting on attacking the Pentagon and the Capitol with remote-controlled aircraft.

There is already a great deal of hype from writers like Slate‘s Will Saletan over terrorists using RC aircraft to launch terrorist attacks. But it’s hype with little factual basis. The fact is that RC aircraft are not a significant threat to national security.

Setting the Record Straight

First, it’s important to get the facts correct. CNN erroneously reports that a model aircraft like the one that terrorist wanted to use can be purchased for less than $200. That is simply incorrect—you can buy small aircraft powered by electric motors and made of styrofoam for $200. But those will not carry much more than a small camera—certainly not enough explosive to make a dent in a building. Such aircraft weigh less than 2 pounds and have a range of less than two miles—hardly a devastating terror weapon.

The RC F-86 intended for the DC bomb plot

The RC F-86 intended for the DC bomb plot could not have carried a 20-pound payload

The aircraft that Ferdaus used was apparently a model of the Korean-War era F-86 with a wingspan of over five feet and a similarly-sized model of the Vietnam era F-4 Phantom. More than likely the aircraft would have been powered by gas turbine engines. Aircraft of that size are quite expensive, probably several thousand dollars, not including equipment. Plus, those aircraft are not designed to lift large payloads. They are designed for speed and maneuverability, not lifting objects. Even if Ferdaus had actually gotten his hands on C4 explosive, the chances of him pulling off a successful attack would have been slim. Loading that aircraft with 20 pounds of explosives and the gear needed for it to use GPS to fly to its intended target would have probably left it too heavy to fly, or at the very least much slower than it would otherwise be. While some reports say that the aircraft could carry 50 pounds of explosives, that is simply untrue. In theory a model aircraft of that size could be stuffed full of C4, but they would have no prayer of actually taking off with that kind of weight.

Not only that, but a turbine aircraft flying over Washington would have been very noisy and very visible. No doubt the Pentagon and the Capitol have systems in place to deal with airborne threats. Even at a maximum speed of over 100 miles per hour, a model aircraft is much slower than a missile, and much larger. The chances of it getting to a target undetected are slim to none. A plane packed full of explosives, assuming it could fly at all, would fly so slowly and ponderously that small arms fire would have no problem knocking it out of the sky long before it reached its target.

That assumes that Ferdaus wouldn’t have blown himself up in the process. C4 is a very stable explosive, but anyone who’s ever flown a model aircraft will say one thing: it’s damn hard. It’s harder than flying a full-scale aircraft. Even with technological aids, it’s still very difficult. And the aircraft that Ferdaus chose would require a long, paved runway to take off. It’s not something that could be launched from a park. Ferdaus would have more than likely not been able to take off, and there’s a good chance he would have ended up meeting his 72 virgins long before he would have caused harm to any government buildings.

In short, this attack would not have worked even if it hadn’t been an FBI sting from the very beginning. As Fast Company observes:

Model aircraft and drones are exceedingly poorly suited to lone wolf terrorist attacks. Despite the use of drones by the U.S. military for targeted strikes and assassinations, operation of these types of unmanned aircraft require access to resources and training generally available only to domestic and foreign military forces. In other words, if you don’t have North Korea or Pakistan training you and supplying AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, fuggedaboutit. The many drones easily available to the civilian market are good only for surveillance and aerial monitoring.

But that won’t stop the busybodies in Congress from trying to regulate model aircraft into oblivion given half the chance.

The Real Threat is Regulation

The real threat here isn’t from al-Qaeda. If you wanted to attack the Pentagon, there are 20,000 missiles gone missing from Libya that could do a lot more damage than a model F-86 packed with C4. Model aviation does not pose a substantial security threat to the United States.

But that won’t stop the regulators from trying to end the hobby. There have been efforts to regulate model aviation into the ground in the past, and busybodies like Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have threatened to regulate RC planes before. The federal government does not like it when anyone does something that they can’t control, and model aviation is next in their crosshairs. This harebrained scheme by a terrorist wanna-be is just the excuse that Washington needs to clamp down.

And this could not come at a worse time. Model aviation is becoming more and more useful to the American people. Thanks to better battery technology and cheaper radios, model aviation is open to people who could never have afforded to get into the hobby in the days of expensive and dangerous fuel-powered engines and equally expensive radios. This means that children can get into a hobby that will teach them about physics, engineering, and aerospace. Last I heard, we wanted to build a high-tech 21st Century economy. We can’t do that by restricting the ability of the average citizen to explore science and technology on their own.

Not only that, but this technology has more concrete uses. Civilian drones can be used for aerial surveying, aerial photography, and scientific studies. The University of North Dakota recently flew a model plane close to a tornado to launch probes into the storm. An off-the-shelf AR.Drone that can be bought at a mall was used to survey damage after the New Zealand earthquake. These are applications that would have previously been too expensive for civilians to afford.

We should not risk these benefits over unnecessary fears of terrorism. We have already sacrificed too much in the name of security, preferring the illusion that “security theater” will keep us safe when the reality is that those measures are less about preventing terrorism and more about having the illusion of doing something.

Rezwan Ferdaus’ foiled attempt to attack Americans with model aircraft was never going to work, and even if it had, the damage would have been far less than more conventional modes of attack. But we should not let Ferdaus’ foolishness lead to an overreaction on the part of government. We only have so many resources that can be brought to bear in stopping the next terror attack, and using those limited resources to patrol civilian hobbyists diminishes our capacity to deal with real threats to our safety and security.

Crystal Ball Watch 2010

Every year I make a bunch of predictions for the coming year, and each subsequent year I note just how far off I was. And this year is no exception.

Last year’s predictions ranged from politics to technology and everywhere in between. It’s hard to believe that last year at this time the iPad was just a rumor, Democrats were crowing about the popularity of their health care plans, and 3D movies weren’t yet an overused gimmick.

Let’s see how my prognostications actually matched the reality of the past


Prediction: President Obama’s popularity will remain mired below 50% throughout most of the year.

Verdict: Correct. The health care debate and the BP oil spill sapped Obama’s popularity, and he never really recovered from either. Obama’s approval rating went underwater right along with the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, and his low popularity contributed to the GOP gains in November.

Prediction:The Democrats will lose more the 40 seats, putting the GOP in control of the House.

Verdict: Correct. The GOP gained over 60 seats in November, which was more than they gained in the 1994 cycle. The GOP’s gains in the House were substantial, and bigger than I would have predicted.

Prediction: In the Senate, Democrats will not fare much better. Majority Leader Reid will lose his seat, following in the footsteps of Tom Daschle. Chris Dodd also loses his seat to a GOP upstart. Same with Blanche Lincoln.

Verdict: Not quite. Harry Reid kept his seat, thanks to Sharron Angle being an even worse alternative in the eyes of Nevada voters. Chris Dodd resigned before his inevitable loss, and once again the Tea Party nominated a candidate that was simply not electable. On the other hand, Blanche Lincoln lost handily, along with several other Democratic incumbents. But the GOP didn’t take the Senate, even in a year that gave them a clear opportunity to do so. You can have a fire breathing conservative candidate who can win—see Rand Paul. But being a fire-breathing Tea Party candidate is not in itself enough, and it certainly doesn’t make up for being a complete and utter basket case—see Christine O’Donnell.

Prediction: The health care bill will be signed into law, and will be a major albatross around the necks of Democrats.

Verdict: Absolutely correct.

Prediction: The Democrats, rather than moving towards the center, will lurch left as the “netroots” convinces many in the party that the reason for the 2010 defeat was because the party was insufficiently “progressive.” The Democrats will end up in the same position the Republicans were in a year ago.

Verdict: Partially correct. The Democrats wisely divorced themselves from their own positions of the past 10 months and tried to run as centrists. But many “progressives” wanted them to run to the far left—convinced that the reason why health care was so unpopular was because it was insufficiently socialist instead of too much so. Now even Barack Obama’s positions are becoming indistinguishable from his predecessor, and the “netroots” are not happy with it.

Prediction: But Republicans should be wary as well. They will have won not on their own laurels, but because of disgust with the current Congress.

Verdict: Again correct. The GOP had better not get cocky in 2011.

Prediction: Cap and trade will be DOA as Congress gets increasingly worried about the political backlash.

Verdict: Again, correct. Cap and trade was even more politically poisonous than health care, and for good reason.


Prediction: The protests in Iran continue in fits and starts, weakening the foundations of the regime. The Iranian government continues to brutalize its own people, while the West does little of consequence to stop them.

Verdict: Iran has been much quieter than I would have expected: the regime has brutalized the opposition to the point where widespread protests aren’t gaining traction. Every year I predict that the regime in Iran will be weakened to near collapse—and every year it is less a prediction than a hope for something better for the Iranian people.

Prediction: President Obama launches further military action in Yemen to try to remove al-Qaeda.

Verdict: Covertly, this may be happening. But the conflict in Afghanistan is continuing to be the major flashpoint in the world.

Prediction: A major economic collapse in the EU shakes the foundation of the Euro.

Verdict: The Greek fiscal crisis fits the bill, and the contagion continues to spread across the Eurozone. The once unthinkable idea of a collapse of the Euro remains a distant possibility, but it gets closer as more and more countries in the Eurozone continue to see their economies decline.

Prediction: Gordon Brown faces a vote of no-confidence in Parliament, causing the him to call new elections in the UK.

Verdict: Indeed, Gordon Brown was defeated by the charismatic Conservative David Cameron in May. But the Tories fell short of a majority, leading to the first hung Parliament since 1974 and eventually to a coalition government.

Prediction: The situation in Afghanistan remains unsettled, but the addition of U.S. troops helps calm some of the tensions.

Verdict: This year has been the bloodiest year in Afghanistan for US and coalition troops and the country remains unstable. The addition of more troops does not seem to have substantially calmed the country, and it’s uncertain whether the Obama Administration will have the political will to continue to try and stabilize the country over the long term.

Prediction: Iran will come closer to testing a nuclear weapon, and will likely have the capability of doing so by the end of 2010.

Verdict: Had it not been for the Stuxnet worm—which was almost certainly the product of Israeil or Western sabotage—Iran might have been much closer to a working nuclear weapon. But Stuxnet actually appears to have worked in slowing down Tehran’s progress. It sounds like the plot of a bad thriller novel, but Stuxnet was probably one of the most ingenuous covert weapons ever used. Whoever came up with it deserves a medal.


Prediction: Unemployment will remain high throughout the year as discouraged workers reenter the workforce. This will be a huge political problem for the Democrats in the 2010 cycle.

Verdict: Indeed, this was true. Unemployment continues to flirt with double-digit levels, and may not go down that much in 2011. Not only was this a political problem for the Democrats in 2010, but the human cost of this kind of endemic unemployment is far too high.

Prediction: The price of gold and other hard assets will continue to skyrocket on inflation fears, leading to a mini-bubble in asset prices.

Verdict: I keep hearing all those advertisements telling people to buy gold: consider me a skeptic. Perhaps gold and other asset prices will continue to climb at a steady rates, but the risk of a bubble is still very real.

Prediction: The government will continue with bailouts of major companies, despite President Obama’s focus on debt reduction.

Verdict: The bailout culture didn’t reach the fever pitch of 2009, but it was still alive and well in 2010.

Prediction: The national deficit will continue to skyrocket as Congress is unable to restrain spending.

Verdict: Predicting this was as obvious as predicting that the sun would rise in the east…


Prediction: Apple will announce their tablet in early 2010, with a 10-inch touch screen and optional 3G wireless through Verizon rather than AT&T. The tablet (probably not called the iSlate) will have a major effect on the e-reader market, although Amazon will counter by making Kindle content available on the new device. Critics will complain that the price point is too high, but the device will sell like hotcakes anyway.

Verdict: Of course, Apple announced the iPad in early 2010, with a 9.7 inch screen and 3G wireless through AT&T. But Verizon is already selling the iPad, and it’s likely that a version with built-in Verizon 3G will be coming in 2011. And Amazon has been selling Kindles like hotcakes, along with selling books on their Kindle app for the iPad. The iPad is the hit device of the year, and for good reason—Apple priced it very competitively and helped to define the market.

Prediction: E-Books will begin to outsell physical book copies.

Verdict: Not quite true yet, but within a few years this could be a real possibility.

Prediction: The reality TV show craze will finally, mercifully die off as people get sick of the them.

Verdict: If only…

Prediction: Web series will continue to take off from being largely low-budget affairs to being more like regular TV shows. Shows akin to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog will receive much critical acclaim and will begin to supplant conventional TV.

Verdict: Not quite yet, although there are web series like SyFy’s Sanctuary that crossed over from web series to cable TV. But there isn’t an online show that’s been a true widespread hit… at least not in 2010.

Prediction: “Steampunk” will go from a small subculture to the next major popular phenomenon. Things like home canning, writing letters on fine stationery, and Victorian styles will become increasingly popular.

Verdict: No, not even close. The “steampunk” subculture remains just that.

Prediction: The death of the newspaper industry will not stop, even though many papers start
reconciling themselves with the digital world.

Verdict: Newspapers continue to struggle with the digital world, and traditional newsprint is still in deep trouble.

The Final Word

Once again, there were some hits and some misses in my predictions last year, Many of my predictions were fairly obvious even back in December: the Democrats’ political misfortunes were widely predicted even a year ago. The rumors of an Apple tablet were rampant. And my usual predictions on Iran were once again not quite as prescient as I would have hoped.

But all in all, not a bad set of predictions, even if there were some stinkers there. Shortly I’ll be posting some predictions for 2011, and a year from now we’ll see if my crystal ball remains clear or is stuffed with crap…

The New Jay Reding.com

I’ve finally gotten around to updating the template around here. The last update was all the way back in 2007, so it was time to do a little freshening up. For one, since 2007 more and more people are browsing the web on mobile devices like the iPad. And this site is now designed to look great on the iPad. (For those of you using an iOS device, try adding this site to your home screen!) The site has been rebuilt from the ground up using HTML5, CSS3, and all the other latest acronyms. I’ve also tried to make the typography as legible as possible regardless of your screen size or device.

Of course, that means that you’ll need to use a recent-generation browser to view the site. I’ve tested it on Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and the latest versions of Internet Explorer. If you’re using an older version of Internet Explorer (7, or God help you 6), you probably won’t get the site as it was intended. But it should still be readable and usable. And if you’re on an iPhone or Android device, you’re golden—the site should work just fine on latest-generation mobile devices.

And since everyone else is doing it, I figured it was time for this site to jump on the social networking bandwagon as well. So you can use the “Share/Bookmark” link at the bottom of each post to post articles here on Facebook, Twitter, or any number of social networking sites.

Of course, there will undoubtedly be much tweaking of elements as time wears on, as well as additional features. I’m never quite satisfied with a blog template. If you see any problems with the template, feel free to email me at comments – at – jayreding.com.

I’m hoping that this new design will last as long as the one it replaced. Each site template this site uses has been created by hand rather than built from a modified prepackaged template. That’s because I believe that this site should be unique and not use the same template or design everyone else is using. I can’t promise it will be that way forever—as I continue my career my spare time keeps getting shorter and shorter. But for now, this design is 100% hand-crafted pixels. I hope you enjoy it.

The iPad Experience

I’ve had about a month to play around with the iPad, Apple’s long-awaited tablet computer. The iPad seems to engender more controversy than any other gadget I’ve seen. People seem to either love the iPad or absolutely hate it. After playing around with it, I’m firmly in the “love it” camp. The reason why the iPad provokes such strong reactions seems to be because it’s such a revolutionary device—here’s why.

Grokking the iPad

One of the reasons why the technical elites seem to look down their nose at the iPad is because it’s not intuitive what the iPad really is. The iPad is not a laptop replacement. Yes, it replaces many, if not most, of the functions of a laptop, but it’s not designed to replace a primary computer. The iPad has to be connected to iTunes before it can be used the first time. The iPad isn’t the right device if you want to use Photoshop or write a thesis—although it can edit images and has a decent word processor. It is what Steve Jobs said it was back in January 2010—it is a device that sits between a laptop and a smartphone/iPod.

The critics argue that it’s just an oversized iPod touch. In many ways they’re right—but that misses the point. The iPod touch is a fantastic gadget, and it sells like hotcakes. It has a huge base of users. So when Apple says in regard to the iPad that “you already know how to use it” they are absolutely right. Coming from an iPod touch or iPhone to an iPad is basically seamless. The only learning curve comes from getting used to the larger virtual keyboard. And it is that vastly expanded screen space that makes the iPad different. Calling it a bigger version of the touch ignores what being a bigger iPod touch entails—it opens up new uses for the device.

For example, watching video on an iPhone is possible, but painful. The screen is just two small at 3.5 inches. But on an iPad, watching video is a dream. The iPad’s screen is naturally suited to it in a way that the iPhone’s is not. The same is true for web browsing. The iPhone browser is great, but when you expand the screen real estate to the size of the iPad, web browsing becomes much more natural.

That’s what makes the iPad so ineffable. It’s hard to describe the feeling of sitting on a couch with an iPad and just surfing the web. It feels incredibly natural. It’s completely effortless. That’s the advantage of the iPad: it takes the familiar touch-based interface that millions already know and loves and gives it much more room. Handling it in the store doesn’t give the full experience—the iPad is a device that isn’t instantly intuitive, but once you understand it and get a feel for it, you just get it.

Giving the Deskop the Finger

Here’s where the revolutionary part comes in. The iPad is the future of computing. That’s not hyperbole, it’s based on the nature of the device.

Since the late 1970s, computers have all followed the same basic metaphor. You have arbitrary files in a hierarchical file system. Graphical user interfaces all tend to use “windows” representing applications that are controlled with a pointing device. There’s a “desktop” underneath where files and application shortcuts can be saved. When Xerox PARC came up with this metaphor in the 1970s it was revolutionary. Everyone, from Apple to Microsoft to Linux, copied that metaphor.

From a computer science standpoint, it makes sense. From a user’s standpoint, it doesn’t. The desktop metaphor is just not that intuitive. For example, take the task of trying to find a picture from vacation. Is it on the desktop? Is it is ‘My Documents\My Pictures’? Or did it end up in ‘C:\Program Files\Some Application\Some Arbitrary Directory\Timestamp\Vacation Photos’? Various operating systems have tried to make it easier to find files, but it can still be a pain.

The iPad jettisons that whole metaphor. There’s no “desktop” on the iPad, just a space for applications, and only applications. If you save a picture to the iPad, it’s in a common repository and nowhere else. All the videos are in the video application, all the music is in the iPod application. The user never thinks of interacting with “files” stuffed into a hierarchical file system. That file system is there, underneath everything, but it’s been shrouded from view.

And, most critically, there’s no pointing device. The benefits of multitouch interfaces are obvious. And the iPhone OS that runs the iPad was built especially for multitouch devices. Microsoft’s efforts shoehorn multitouch into Windows 7 have failed, because there’s a fundamental difference between an OS designed for touch and one designed for a pointing device. Apple understands this, and has designed the iPhone OS to be built for multitouch and nothing else.

The old desktop metaphor made sense back when it was invented and used. But it no longer makes sense for a device like the iPad. What makes the iPad so revolutionary is that it proves the desktop metaphor is no longer required. The touch metaphor has replaced it, and the touch metaphor has much more potential for innovation than the desktop metaphor did.

What about Freedom?

The critics say that the iPad isn’t a liberating device—you’re stuck playing in Apple’s sandbox when you use it. That’s only half true. Yes, the App Store requires you to play by Apple’s rules and Apple’s rules alone. But there’s a good reason for this, and even then the App Store is not the only thing that makes the iPad shine.

First there’s the issue of iPad apps. Apple has gotten a lot of heat for their policies on how apps are approved and how they may be created. Some of it is admittedly deserved. But the purpose behind these rules is valid: Apple wants the iPad to just work. Right now a user can install any iPad app without fear of crashing their system. There’s no need for installers—every app is in its own self-contained sandbox. There’s no need for uninstallers—when you get rid of an app it goes away completely. There’s no fear in adding apps to the iPad in the way that many users fear adding apps to their computers. Apps can be disposed of quickly and easily. To the user, this is liberating. The iPad is a computer than no one fear to break.

Yes, that means that developers must follow Apple’s rules. And yes, Apple has admittedly been less than consistent in how they enforce those rules. But the rules are not arbitrary. They are to control the platform, but not just to the benefit of Apple. This walled-garden approach benefits users as well.

The iPad is not a closed ecosystem though. Remember when Google announced their Chrome OS project? The tech world swooned at a tablet that did nothing but run web apps. Think of the iPad being a version of that tablet with an additional proprietary app store bolted on. The iPad can run any given web app, and it runs them well. The same technology that powers the iPad’s browser also powers the browser for Android devices. And Google’s Chrome. And the new Blackberry 6 browser. That means that the iPad is part of a huge meta-platform that can run web apps that run across just about every device out there. Web apps won’t necessarily replace native apps—at least not yet, but they do give developers virtually unlimited freedom.

Screw Flash

But the iPad doesn’t run Flash! So what?

I’ll be blunt. Flash is a pile of crap. I don’t miss having Flash on my iPad, because I don’t even use Flash on my desktop. The Mac OS X version of Flash is slow, buggy, and annoying. I have Flash content blocked by default on every one of my computers, and virtually never unblock it.

Flash is old technology. It belongs in the scrap heap with Java Applets and Microsoft’s Active X. The future lies in HTML5, a completely open standard not controlled by any one company. Flash is a dead man walking, but Adobe has yet to figure that out.

Now, I could be wrong. Maybe Adobe will get Flash working so well on Android that Apple’s devices will be at a competitive disadvantage because they won’t run all the great apps written in Flash.

And maybe a naked Angelina Jolie will parachute into my backyard with a suitcase full of $100 bills.

Flash is a dying platform that’s being quickly overtaken by better and more advanced technologies. Steve Jobs is right to chuck it out. The App Store does not need a bunch of slow, buggy, third-rate apps that depend on Adobe’s notoriously slow development cycle when Apple updates iPhone OS. Apple’s been down that road before, and they’re not doing it again.

The lack of Flash isn’t a glaring omission from the iPad, it’s a feature. The web will embrace HTML5 long before Apple feels the need to embrace Flash. If Adobe were smart, they’d be embracing HTML5 too. There are enough good and innovative developers at Adobe that they could do it if they’d stop staring into the rearview mirror.

Welcome to the iPad World

The iPad is a revolutionary device. It is just as polished as Apple’s other offerings, and being based on mature technologies, it’s more polished than a first-generation product normally is. It’s a device that once used quickly becomes indispensable. The critics tend not to understand it, and keep trying to compare it to devices that are not comparable. Just like the original iPhone, the critics will end up owning one or more of them in a few years.

The iPad is the future of computing. The desktop metaphor is no longer the only game in town. Apple is betting their future on the idea that computing will become less about desktops and laptops and more about small devices connected to the “cloud” of internet-based applications. And just like the iPhone, Apple has taken a product that hadn’t yet had a breakout devices and created something that will have everyone else scrambling to catch up. Even if Apple somehow fails (and the one million iPads sold in a month say that’s not going to happen), they have left their mark on the industry. Look at the iPad. That’s what computers of the future will look like.