Free Tools for the New Scientific Revolution

Blogs are great for supplementing real-life events, by giving space and time for specific examples and links which can’t be referenced at the time. I was invited to give a talk last week at the first-ever NASA Information Technology Summit in Washington DC, and the topic I chose was “Government and the Revolution in Scientific Computing.” That’s an area that Microsoft Research has been focusing on quite a bit lately, so below I’ll give some examples I didn’t use at my talk.

One groundrule was that invited private-sector speakers were not allowed to give anything resembling a “sales pitch” of their company’s wares. Fair enough – I’m no salesman.  The person who immediately preceded me, keynoter Vint Cerf, slightly bent the rules and talked a bit about his employer Google’s products, but gee whiz, that’s the prerogative of someone who is in large part responsible for the Internet we all use and love today.

I described in my talk the radical new class of super-powerful technologies enabling large-data research and computing on platforms of real-time and archival government data. That revolution is happening now, and I believe government could and should be playing a different and less passive role. I advocated for increased attention to the ongoing predicament of U.S. research and development funding.

Alex Howard at O’Reilly Radar covered the NASA Summit and today published a nice review of both Vint’s talk and mine.  Some excerpts: Continue reading

A Technical Computing revolution

Last week I enjoyed hosting a visit in Redmond from Chris Kemp, NASA’s new Chief Technology Officer for information technology. Our discussions were with folks from the Windows Azure cloud computing team, the high-performance computing and large-data folks, and our Extreme Computing Group. I smiled when Chris said he was a fan of the book Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything, written by Microsoft’s Gordon Bell and colleague Jim Gemmell. (I wrote about their research projects in an earlier post, Total Recall for Public Servants.)

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Data in the Cloud from Dallas to Mars

There’s a lot going on at this week’s Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC 09); it’s a traditional launchpad for cool new stuff. I thought I’d point out several of the government-relevant announcements and technology roll-outs.

I specifically want to spotlight something called Codename Dallas, and how NASA and others have begun using it. In the keynote this morning Microsoft’s Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie told PDC attendees (and his streaming-video audience) that a landslide of new sensors and observational systems are changing the world by recording “unimaginable volumes of data… But this data does no good unless we turn the potential into the kenetic, unless we unlock it and innovate in the realm of applications and solutions that’s wrapped around that data.”

Here’s how we’re addressing that, with a bit of step-by-step context on the overall cloud-computing platform enabling it.  The steps are: 1. Azure, 2. Pinpoint, and 3. Dallas.

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Video of largest amateur rocket ever launched

When I was nine years old, I spent the early summer of 1969 doing two amateurish things: playing baseball with neighborhood pals on a red-clay diamond set among the tobacco fields of western North Carolina, and building a 1:100 scale three-foot-tall model of the Saturn 5 rocket topped by the Apollo capsule. I was pretty excited that I finished the model before the July Apollo XI mission took place, and I watched with a knowing eye as Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins sat atop the rocket and “lit the candle.”

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Follow NASA Innovation on Twitter

Yesterday my group hosted a meeting at Microsoft Reston with the ILO Institute on “Innovation in Large Organizations.”  The ILO Institute always brings together great clients (FedEx, Time Warner, SAIC, IBM, US Postal Service) and yesterday was no exception, with an eclectic group from NIH, DoJ, NASA, RTI, GTSI and others. The discussion about that seeming oxymoron – innovation in large organizations – was fascinating, with lively threads about distinctions between Microsoft and Apple for example, and whether the latter is actually a technology company or a fashion company.  [My opinion: its success comes from its fashion/marketing leadership, not technical advances.]

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Latest NASA Launch: Viral Marketing

Fact: Aviation Week has a piece today (“Funding Biggest ISS Obstacle“) outlining the budgetary woes of the International Space Station program, noting that the five partnering national space agencies which jointly operate the ISS “say they are eager to use the facility as a stepping stone for lunar and Martian exploration, but they first must find a way to sustain operations beyond the present partnership agreement….The main question mark about extending operations is related to funding and not technical issues. No road map or timetable for prolonging the ISS lifetime can be established until these financial issues have been resolved.”

Analysis: I’m a fan of space research and travel, and I’d like to see more funding and attention go into the American space effort, and with it more American ability to collaborate on international space ventures.

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How to Run a State-of-the-Art Technology Program – Quietly

FACT: In the new movie “Iron Man,” defense-contracting billionaire and engineering genius Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) designs and builds a suit capable of individual flight (highly engineered control surfaces powered by an “arc-reactor” – it is Hollywood after all). During his first test flight, zooming straight up from Malibu and stressing the system to its max, he asks his onboard computer, “What’s the altitude record for the SR-71?” His computer responds back, “85,000 feet,” whereupon he zooms past that ceiling.

ANALYSIS: Funny moment, and excellent movie.  In its honor, below I’m going to give you access to a remarkable, recently declassified document describing one of America’s boldest Cold War technical achievements.  If you’ve ever run (or wanted to run) a high-tech company or program, like Tony Stark in the movie, you’ll appreciate the startling scope of the work – and if you’ve recently worked in DoD or the Intelligence Community you’ll marvel at how they did it “in the good old days.”

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