Simon Moves On

Jim Simon at the Library of Alexandria, Egypt

One indulgent use of a personal blog is to drop a nod in the direction of a salutary individual, and I’d like to do so for my departing boss, Jim Simon.

Jim has been the founding Director of the Microsoft Institute since 2004, when Bill Gates and Craig Mundie personally decided to establish a small outfit to use the benefits of Microsoft’s advanced research and development activities against intractable problems for the global public sector. They had been talking with Jim for several years, back when he was a senior executive at the Central Intelligence Agency and after, to understand how to improve government’s adoption of modern technologies.

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John Brennan’s Approach as the New CIA Director

Barring unforeseen Washington politicking at the last minute, John Brennan is being announced later today as President-elect Obama’s choice to replace Mike Hayden as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

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Currently in Cairo

Cairo Tower, or Gezira Tower, on the Nile

Cairo Tower, or Gezira Tower, on the Nile

I’m currently in Cairo and am trying to carve out time to finish some tech-focused blog posts, in the middle of spending time with the great technologists here and also just wandering around Cairo.

On the former point, I’m spending time with the Cairo Microsoft Innovation Center, in Smart Village just on the western outskirts of town. CMIC is working on some interesting stuff, much of it web-based, including some leading-edge automated translation solutions beyond the neat stuff we’ve already deployed in Windows Live.

On the latter point, i.e. wandering, this is only my second visit, of what I hope and expect will be many in coming years, so I’m still a wide-eyed tourist.  Here are a couple of photographs on Flickr which I took yesterday and last night, from my hotel and walking up and down the Nile through central Cairo, on main avenues and back streets.

On my first visit here in May, I took a bunch of the usual touristy pictures (see them here), including the Pyramids, Sphinx, Museum, etc. Won’t get to do that stuff this trip.

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Egypt’s Supreme Court

FACT: Last month Egypt’s parliament passed a new law on public demonstrations in the vicinity of religious facilities (churches, mosques, etc.).  Already, lawyers are planning for an appeal and review of the law before Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (photo left), the nation’s highest judicial body.  

 

ANALYSIS: I wrote earlier that at the Microsoft Institute we’re thinking about ways to help improve the operations and capabilities of the judicial branch of government, at various levels. 

Perhaps my interest has been piqued by the fact that, for quite a while, I’ve been sleeping with a brilliant lawyer – oh, that would be my wife Kathryn. While she’s retired from active practice, she spends some volunteer time each week at the U.S. Supreme Court, giving public lectures on the history of the Court and its justices for the Curator’s Office.

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Update on Facebook-in-Egypt

FACT: According to a Sunday Washington Post front-page story today recounting the events leading up to May 4, a “day of strike” called for by social-networkers as a protest against government policies, “By late afternoon, of the 74,000 people who had registered on the Facebook protest page, only 15 – three men and 12 women – were still eager to gather for a protest.”  [Note: the Facebook page had only been launched in late March.]

ANALYSIS: Last week I wrote about media coverage of Egypt’s Facebook affair, and noted that the Post and others had only covered it on media blogs, not in the actual newspaper.

This morning I picked up my Sunday-morning Post and saw the story, “Fledgling Rebellion on Facebook Is Struck Down by Force in Egypt,” right on the front page, which means that across Washington this morning, and other capital cities through clipping services, many in the foreign policy elite and punditocracy may be reading for the first time about the Web 2.0 facet of these events. 

Reporter Ellen Knickmeyer also posted today a related online “Field Notes” column about the challenges of covering the Facebook activists.

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Social Networking in Egypt Takes a Political Turn

FACT: In the past two days, reporters for the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have each written accounts of the ongoing confrontation in Egypt between the government and online activists – the “Facebook Revolution” as the Post reporter terms it, hyperbolically. One interesting aspect: the two accounts are not carried as actual news stories in the “newspaper” (real or virtual), but as blog posts by the reporters on dedicated foreign-correspondent blogs. The Washington Post account is on the “PostGlobal” uber-blogsite, under Jack Fairweather’s “Islam’s Advance” blog, while the L.A. Times account is on the “Babylon & Beyond” blog, which carries a sub-head of “Observations from Iraq, Iran, Israel, the Arab World and Beyond.”

ANALYSIS: Up to now there’s been little coverage in traditional American media outlets of the emerging political tenor of some social networks in Egypt over the past several months. Major newspapers and the cable-news channels have not explored the topic, but I just returned from some time in Egypt and I learned that of course it is a widely covered and discussed topic there.  One young woman in her 30s, an urban professional, told me “I’m on Facebook all day long!”

Every morning outside my hotel room I would find an English-language newspaper, and for many days in a row it was a different paper – often because they were weekly editions.  That gave me the opportunity to read a variety of opinions from a somewhat broad band, as measured in “distance to/from the government position.”  

Helpfully, on May 6 2008 the Egyptian Mail included a summary of the raging controversy over Facebook, noting that “In Egypt, Facebook is the stage for the latest twist in the generation gap, playing host to politically hungry young Egyptians eager to take on their ageing leader.”  Only at the end of the article did I notice that it was reprinted from a New-York-based Egyptian blogger, the respected Mona Eltahawwy.

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Some Photos from Cairo

I’m in Cairo this week, my first-ever trip to Egypt, visiting the Cairo Microsoft Innovation Center (CMIC) – they’re doing some really interesting work particularly in Information Retrieval, Collaborative Content Services, and Digital Content Services – a very web-minded, web-services driven set of research and development activities with some real payoff in areas like machine translation and collaborative practices.   More information on their work at http://www.microsoft.com/middleeast/egypt/cmic/.

I love Cairo already, on just my second day here.  I’ve posted some photos at a Flickr collection, and  I’ll keep adding to those….

 

 
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