Friday, February 29, 2008

Does It Play in Peoria?

In advance of the Ohio primary, both Clinton and Obama have suggested that the US might want to reopen the NAFTA debate with an eye to increasing labor and environmental protections. This suggestion drew entirely predictable howls of dismay from the business press.

I'm not going to say the business press is wrong. The impact of NAFTA is too complex a subject to get into here. But what do you say to the people of Ohio? Ohio built its economy around manufacturing and trade in manufactured goods. As a result, the state has carried a disproportionate share of the burden of globalization. Manufacturing jobs have left the state, but financial services, software, and other technology-driven industries haven't moved in. Ohio's unemployment rate stands at 6%, a full point higher than the nation as a whole. The people of Ohio do not think that NAFTA has helped them, regardless of what it has done (or not) for the nation as a whole.

The same story is behind anti-globalization movements worldwide. Farmers in Pakistan do not welcome American cotton, nor is cattle ranching good for the inhabitants of the Amazon. Globalization is seen--rightly or wrongly--as enriching business owners while impoverishing their employees. Advocates of globalization assure us that is not the case, that global prosperity is a tide that lifts all boats.

Maybe so. But until the people of Ohio agree, treaties like NAFTA will rest on shaky political foundations.

The Biased Media

Reading the news online today, I was reminded of what Halberstam calls "The Afghanistan Principle:" journalists have more freedom the further away their subject is. If you're writing for the New York Times, you can say pretty much anything you want about the President of Afghanistan, but if you're too critical of the Mayor of New York, your editor will probably hear about it.

Good editors and good publishers do their best to fend off outside pressures, but they're only human. If fellow CEOs are haranguing the publisher and pulling ads, he's not going to be happy. The more unhappy he is, the more pressure editors and reporters will feel. At the other extreme, some publishers quite openly insist on content that conforms to their views.

As a reader, the best way to get better journalism is to reward those who supply it. Write nice letters, patronize advertisers, and tell the advertiser where you saw the ad. Positive letters are especially powerful, since so many people write only when they have complaints.

As a citizen, the best way to stay informed is to remember that the Afghanistan Principle works in reverse, too. There's lots of excellent coverage being written outside the US. Even government-controlled media at least illustrate what that nation's leaders want their people to think.

Needless to say, the Internet is the best anti-bias tool ever created. If you aren't reading at least one foreign news site regularly, you're seriously missing out. Be aware, though, that the Afghanistan Principle applies to blogs, too: like most bloggers, I would think long and hard before picking a fight with a neighbor or a client. The best approach is to use a variety of sources and make your own decision.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Revolution is Online

I've been reading David Halberstam's book, The Powers That Be, about media and politics between the Depression and Watergate. It's gotten me thinking. Franklin Roosevelt was the first radio president, and radio let him bypass the press and talk directly to voters in their homes. Kennedy, the first television president, beat a sitting Vice President in part because he looked so good while Nixon looked so very bad. (As Halberstam tells the story, Nixon was tired and sick even before the debate started, while Kennedy was well-rested, with a fresh tan from campaigning in California.)

I think Obama, if elected, will be the first Internet president. McCain and Clinton use their sites in fairly traditional ways: to get their side of the story out, to show video of the candidate, to ask for donations. Obama's site certainly does all that, but it goes far beyond the others in asking supporters to make calls, to volunteer, to get involved... and in recognizing the efforts of those supporters. It's also updated far more frequently, giving supporters a reason to keep coming back and not incidentally giving the impression of a far more active campaign.

Just one quick example. At the moment, the first page of John McCain's campaign blog has five items, dated from February 12 to February 25. Two respond to a recent New York Times story, one is a video clip of President George Bush (senior)'s endorsement of McCain, one has election results, and one links to polling locations in upcoming states. Over on Hillary Clinton's blog, there are also five items, dating from February 27 to February 28. Two are about donations: one asking for them and one recognizing donors. Two are news updates, "what the campaign did today." The fifth has photos from a campaign appearance.

Just comparing those two, Clinton wins the battle for the Internet hands down. More frequent updates, more content, more sense that there are human beings on the other side of the screen. But then there's the Barack Obama blog. Ten items, all dated today. Three video clips: ABC at Obama headquarters, a new ad, and a campaign rally. Two items recognizing supporters (with photos and profiles). Two items quoting public figures saying nice things about the candidate. And three with miscellaneous campaign stuff: pictures from another rally, a response to John McCain, and a link for information on March 4th results parties. (Oh yeah, and they posted two more items while I was writing this post.)

Obama's success to this point is due to his ability to put large crowds of motivated people to work: donating, caucusing, and talking to their friends. His mastery of the Internet is a huge factor in that success.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Brother can you spare $7 billion?

The transition to 450-mm wafers, if it occurs, is going to be really really expensive. I suspect everyone knew that already, but now Wright Williams & Kelly has turned its simulation tools loose to figure out just how expensive. Start with $7 billion for the initial supply of test wafers alone, and go from there. Among other worries, there's the very real possibility that CMOS will run out of steam before the industry can recover the transition costs.

Hmmm.... Maybe we can squeeze more productivity out of 300-mm wafers after all, huh?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Knowledge is power, political edition

The Texas Democratic Party allocates presidential delegates based on each district's general election turnout. Though the system has been in place for decades, apparently it came as a bit of a surprise to the Clinton campaign. (Which apparently expected to have the nomination wrapped up a month ago.) Elsewhere, the campaign has complained that its poor results in caucus states (beginning with Iowa, the first speed bump for what was supposed to be a juggernaut) are because caucuses fail to reflect the will of the broader electorate. That may be true, but the quirks of the caucus system are hardly news.

Hmmm.... Plans that fail to consider important, readily available information. Plans that rely on overly optimistic assumptions, with no alternative when those assumptions fail. Do those sound like the plans of an experienced leader and/or leadership team to you?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

One low-defect step for Sematech

Sematech's Mask Blank Development Center reports that it has demonstrated EUV blanks with just 0.04 defects per square centimeter, surpassing the organization's 2007 roadmap target. The announcement particularly noted contributions from Lasertec Corporation, which provided the necessary nanometer-scale inspections.

EUV-watchers may also want to make note of two upcoming events: the EUVL Mask Standards Workshop, to be held February 25 in conjunction with the SPIE Lithography Conference; and the 2008 Sematech Litho Forum, planned for mid-May in upstate New York.