Tearing the Roof off a 2-Terabyte House

I was home last night playing with the new Kinect, integrating it with Twitter, Facebook, and Zune. Particularly because of the last service, I was glad that I got the Xbox 360 model with the 250-gigabyte (gb) hard disk drive. It holds a lot more music, or photos, and of course primarily games and game data.

So we wind up with goofy scenes like my wife zooming along yesterday in Kinect Adventures’ River Rush – not only my photo (right) but in-game photos taken by the Kinect Sensor, sitting there below the TV monitor.

Later as I was waving my hands at the TV screen, swiping magically through the air to sweep through Zune’s albums and songs as if pawing through a shelf of actual LP’s, I absent-mindedly started totting up the data-storage capacity of devices and drives in my household.  Here’s a rough accounting:

  • One Zune music-player, 120gb;
  • 2 old iPods 30gb + 80gb;
  • an iPad 3G at 16gb;
  • one HP netbook 160gb;
  • an aging iMac G5 with 160gb;
  • three Windows laptops of 60gb, 150gb, and 250gb;
  • a DirecTV DVR with a 360gb disk;
  • a single Seagate 750gb external HDD;
  • a few 1gb, 2gb, and a single 32gb SD cards for cameras;
  • a handful of 2gb, 4gb, and one 16gb USB flash drives;
  • and most recently a 250gb Xbox 360, for Kinect. 

All told, I’d estimate that my household data storage capacity totals 2.5 terabytes. A terabyte, you’ll recall, is 1012 bytes, or 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) bytes, or alternately a thousand gigabytes.

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Mix, Rip, Burn Your Research

You’ve done research; you’ve collected and sifted through mounds of links, papers, articles, notes and raw data. Shouldn’t there be a way to manage all that material that’s as easy and intuitive as, say, iTunes or Zune – helping you manage and share your snippets and research the way you share and enjoy your music?

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DARPA crowd guru gets a new lab

It’s been a little over two years since I came back to the tech private sector from my government service, and it’s great when we have other folks take the same path, for it improves the knowledge of each side about the other. Today we’re announcing that Peter Lee, currently the leader of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Activity’s innovative Transformational Convergence Technology Office (TCTO), is joining Microsoft to run the mighty flagship Redmond labs of Microsoft Research.

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Total Recall for Public Servants

MyLifeBits is a Microsoft Research project led by the legendary Gordon Bell, designed to put “all of his atom- and electron-based bits in his local Cyberspace….MyLifeBits includes everything he has accumulated, written, photographed, presented, and owns (e.g. CDs).” 

SenseCam - Click to enlarge

Among other technical means, Bell uses the SenseCam, a remarkable prototype from Microsoft Research.  It’s a nifty little wearable device that combines high-capacity memory, a fisheye lens passively capturing 3,000 images a day, along with an infrared sensor, temperature sensor, light sensor, accelerometer, and USB interface. My group has played with SenseCam a bit, and shared it with quite a few interested government parties and partners. More info on SenseCam here, and more on its parent Sensors and Devices Group in MSR.  

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Immersed in Augmented Reality

Here’s a quick post, about a talk I gave this week – but as an excuse to link to a much more compelling presentation given at the TED Talks recently. Yesterday I had the good fortune to deliver the “Technology Keynote” address at the annual International Field Directors and Technology Conference, in Delray Beach, Florida. The IFD&TC is a well-known group in its field – no pun – of the world’s leading academic and government researchers, conducting large-scale and longitudinal social-scientific research studies.

As an example, think of the U.S. Census – and indeed I had the opportunity to spend some time with Cheryl Landman, Chief of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Demographic Surveys Division. You know those large studies drawn from every decade’s data? She runs them. That division’s work should feature prominently (I hope) in the forthcoming U.S. government’s “Data.gov” set of services.

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Three cool new projects in Microsoft Research

[April Fool's Edition]   I haven’t blogged in a little while – been a little busy – so I’ll make up for it with a burst of three cool new things coming out of the inventive lab work at Microsoft Research – improving Twitter, computer performance, and mobile phones.

MegaNano: New High-End Camera for Cellphones

Many people are dissatisfied with the fuzzy quality of photos taken with their built-in cellphone cameras. So Microsoft will be rolling out this summer the most advanced built-in mobile phone-cam on the market, based on a fantastic prototype now in final user testing at Microsoft Research’s Beijing lab.

MegaNanoDubbed the “MegaNano,” the sylish but diminutive camera boasts 72 megapixel resolution and a shutter-speed setting range from 0.003 seconds all the way up to seven hours.

The itty-bitty MegaNano will be launched simultaneously with the new Microsoft Mobile Apps Store, bundled with a nice selection of jackets and outerware with specially reinforced pouch-pockets and backpacks designed to hold the tiny device. 

I know you’ll want one. One beta-tester says, “It’s so small yet so powerful!  I have to remind myself sometimes that the weight on my shoulders is actually a tiny camera!”

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My other computer is a Cray

Fact: The annual ACM Gordon Bell Prize is about to be awarded at “SuperComputing 08” (or SC08) which takes place November 15-21 at the Austin Convention Center in Texas. The convention is “the” international conference for high-performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis. The Association for Computing Machinery makes the Bell award “to recognize outstanding achievement in high-performance computing,” in honor of Microsoft’s legendary Gordon Bell, one of the pioneers of supercomputing.

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Higher Math on the Sands of Santa Barbara

UCSB

UCSB, looking NW

Spent Sunday afternoon with world-renowned mathematician Michael Freedman (short bio here) walking the beach and bluffs above, just northwest of UC Santa Barbara, talking about a number of absurd and not-so-absurd possibilities in the future applications of quantum computing.  Here’s an example of the kind of stuff I was trying, very hard and maybe somewhat successfully, to grasp while walking in the California sun and trying to ignore the nude sunbathers and hang-gliders.  If that’s unhelpful (as most of it is for me), here’s a straightforward description of some of his main work and its possible applications. 

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Theory of the Fireball, Supercomputing, and other Los Alamos Tidbits

Back in the early ’90s when I was first dating Kathryn, now the lovely bride, we went on some awesome roadtrips, including many cross-country – great way to get to know someone.  At the time my brother was an Air Force pilot, flying the F-117 stealth fighter, so we once paid him a visit at Holloman AFB on a 10-day drive through the Southwest.  I’ll have to find and upload to Flickr the pictures he took of each of us sitting in its classified cockpit – surely a massive security violation which I lay entirely at his feet (lucky for him he’s retired from the Air Force now and flying for Delta). 

Sadly, the F-117 Night Hawk has also now been officially retired, replaced by the F-22 Raptor.

As much as that was a thrill, though, the highlight of that particular roadtrip was driving up to the Los Alamos plateau and spending some time touring around the Lab, the Museum, and the interesting little town that’s grown up around all that PhD talent in the middle of the high desert.

That lab’s on my mind because I’ve been thinking about supercomputing and the revolution it could undergo thanks to quantum computing. I’m in Santa Barbara visiting the “Station Q” research program in quantum computing, and will write more about quantum computing soon, since I’m actually beginning to understand it.

But as an interesting artifact in my preparatory reading, Microsoft’s John Manferdelli sent me a link to a Federation of Atomic Scientists archive of declassified Los Alamos National Lab technical reports and publications, from “the good old days” at Los Alamos.

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“The Largest Social Network Ever Analyzed”

FACT: According to ComScore data cited in a story in Monday’s FInancial Times, “Facebook, the fast-growing social network, has taken a significant lead over MySpace in visitor numbers for the first time… Facebook attracted more than 123 million unique visitors in May, an increase of 162 per cent over the same period last year… That compared with 114.6 million unique visitors at MySpace, Facebook’s leading rival, whose traffic grew just 5 per cent during the same period… The findings mark the first time that Facebook, launched in 2004, has taken a significant lead in unique visitors, [and] come at a time of change inside Facebook, as the one-time upstart attempts to transform itself into a leading media company.

ANALYSIS:  This week several members of the Microsoft Institute met in Redmond with a visiting friend from government, and among other talks we had a very interesting discussion with Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft Research principal researcher and manager.  Eric’s well known for his work in artificial intelligence and currently serves as president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

We talked about one of Eric’s recent projects for quite a while: “Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant-Messaging Network,” a project which has been described by his co-author as “the largest social network ever analyzed.” 

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