InfoViz Cockpit View of Record Space Jump

I recall, one year ago this week, sitting at home on the edge of my seat, intently watching on my wallscreen the live countdown to Felix Baumgartner‘s stunning Red Bull Stratos mission to “transcend human limits” by calmly stepping off an ultra-high-altitude balloon capsule. On the way down he would go supersonic and set numerous records, most significantly the highest-altitude human jump (128,100 feet).

To mark the anniversary, the Stratos folks have just released a well-done information-visualization of his feat, featuring for the first time Felix’s own actual view of the jump – a nicely arranged combination of synchronized views as he hurtled to earth captured by three cameras mounted on Felix’s space-suit, including his helmet cam.  You’ll also see gauges noting his Altitude, Airspeed, G-Force, and “Biomed” (heart rate, breath rate).

A couple of datapoints which stood out for me: After his ledge salute and headfirst dive, Felix goes from zero to 100 mph in 4.4 seconds, hitting Mach 1 (or 689 mph) in just 33.2 seconds.  It’s also fascinating to watch his heart rate, which (exemplifying his astronaut coolness under pressure) actually decreases from 181 bpm at jump to around 163 bpm as he quickly adjusts; it then rises and falls as he encounters and then controls a severe spin.

His chute deploys about halfway into this nine-minute video, but watching to the end is worth it as he masterfully glides to earth, landing in a suave trot on his feet.  Enjoy this look back at a universal Superman.

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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Gartner Says, Sometimes Hype is Necessary

Fact: Gartner is taking the same approach they often critique with their normally-solid “Hype Cycle” reports – arguing that “a little cloud hype” is beneficial if it “captures the imaginations of a broader audience of decision makers.”

Analysis: With their annual “Hype Cycle” reports, Gartner usually does a solid job of tracking over-optimistic assessments of the “latest and greatest” in technology and calling out overly hyped “hot new tech” and providing realistic assessments of the projected future of trends in software, hardware, and business processes.

Sometimes, Gartner slips up, and falls prey to the error they ascribe to others.  That’s the only interpretation I can make on a curious blog posting on an official Gartner blog designed to promote their new book “Mastering the Hype Cycle: Choosing the Right Innovation at the Right Time.”  Mark Raskino, the book’s co-author with longtime analyst Jackie Fenn, argues that “We have to simplify the business proposition behind this ‘big shift’,  explain it well and socialize it deeply to convince non-tech business leaders to buy-in.” 

Mr. Raskino makes clear that he wants to babytalk these business-side executives into believing “a little cloud hype” because, in his words, IT leaders and CIOs “need help explaining the fundamental change.”

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WIRED Cracks Cyber-Battle Code

Just a quick note between conflicting conference sessions in different locations around the DC Beltway, to note that WIRED’s premier national-security blogger Noah Schactman may have just cracked the code – or at least “a” code – on where the ongoing dispute over “control of cyber” is heading in national security circles, in his latest DangerRoom post (“Air Force Cyber Command Could Return, with Nukes“).

The dispute has been reported lightly, in places like the NextGov blog (“The Cyber Command Power Play?”), and usually boils down to a perceived battle between the U.S. Air Force and the nation’s Intelligence Community, over control of the increasingly central issue of cyber offense and cyber defense.

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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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Pentagon’s New Program for Innovation, in Context

FACT: According to an article in today’s Washington Post, the Pentagon has announced “the selection of six university professors who will form the first class of the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellows Program. The professors will receive grants of up to $600,000 per year for up to five years to engage in basic research — essentially a bet by the Pentagon that they will make a discovery that proves vital to maintaining the superiority of the U.S. military.”

ANALYSIS: This new program is an innovation from DoD’s Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), and since tomorrow I’ll be at Ft. McNair for a two-day conference sponsored by DDR&E on Strategic Communications, I’ll congratulate John Young and his staff for the good idea.

But the Post article falls short in two ways: one immediate (it leaves out key information about next year’s program and the upcoming deadline!) and one longer-term (it ignores the overall context of federal support for R&D).  I’ll fill in the blanks below.

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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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Microsoft Research Reclaims Value of Pi

pi-techFACT: Educators in the state of Alabama are chafing as the state celebrates a dubious anniversary: today marks ten years since the Alabama state legislature voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159… to the “Biblical value” of 3.0.  Ramifications were felt across the state. 
Now, a team of Microsoft Research computer scientists have announced success in a groundbreaking effort to refactor the Biblical value, using modern high-performance computing hardware and machine-translation technologies on the original Old Testament texts.
  
ANALYSIS:  Looking back, an April 1998 issue of Science and Reason newsletter written by physicist Mark Boslough recounts the political and cultural battles which went behind the Alabama legislative change. The legislature of the “Yellowhammer State” justified the change by citing biblical injunction. As one supporter put it: “the Bible very clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the altar font of Solomon’s Temple was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was round in compass.”

The use of “3.0″ as the value of pi led to problems in schools, businesses, and local scientific pursuits, including a group of frustrated engineers at the NASA research facility in Huntsville.  According to NASA/Huntsville’s director of special projects “Dr.” Jim Simon (doctorate pending), “We had strayed from using our Microsoft software and instead had been trying to figure out how to use an advanced Google search platform, which was sold to us as a powerful Cloud Computing system.”

Unfortunately, that effort proved frustrating for the “rocket scientists” any time they used calculations involving pi, based on the Alabama-standard value of 3.0, mostly because they were under the mistaken impression that they were contractually barred from using Cloud Computing on any sunny days. Given the hospitable local weather that left them unable to use their computers for an average of 290 days each year.

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Space Race 2025: Does Manned Exploration Return its Costs?

Fact: According to a Houston Chronicle editorial urging increased funding for NASA, “The NASA budget approved by Congress is just over $17.3 billion. [A]dded funding is needed to shorten a dangerous 5-year gap between the decommissioning of the three aging space shuttles in 2010 and the first scheduled flight of Orion [the next generation U.S. manned spacecraft] in 2015.”

Analysis: NASA and its long-running race with the Russians is on my mind a bit, for two nifty reasons: first, NASA’s Dr. Lisa Porter is joining the intelligence community to lead advanced R&D (see my post last week), and I serendipitously found a stunning collection of vintage Soviet and European science-fiction images, oh-so-retro, and intend to redecorate my walls with them (or would if my wife would let me).

soviet-sci-fi-art-1953.jpgDoes NASA need more money? The answer may depend on whether there actually is the potential of a new space race… and if so, toward what goal, and does the U.S. need to win that race.  This week’s shot across our bow seems to indicate some Russians are eager for a race to Mars. Lev Zelyony, director of Russia’s prestigious Space Research Institute, was quoted as saying “We lost the race to the moon,” but that reaching the red planet by 2025 would bring “scientific and political prestige” and is “technically and economically achievable.”  He added that they have “a head start” in the race, such as it is.

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IARPA’s First Director: Dr. Lisa Porter

Fact: IARPA has a new Director.

Analysis: The well-known DARPA (part of DoD) will now at last have a full-fledged intelligence-community counterpart. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity - prosaically called “IARPA” – was created last year, but has been stepping out slowly because [/opinion on] of lack of leadership [/opinion off], with only “interim” place-holder leaders.  Many of my friends who were recruited or absorbed into IARPA at the beginning, as it swallowed the old Disruptive Technologies Office for example, felt that the new org was spinning its wheels without traction, for lack of a strong and stable hand at the helm.  [Note also this recent post on IARPA.]

Today the Director of National Intelligence named Dr. Lisa Porter as IARPA’s first Director. She’s been at NASA, and before that DARPA itself.  She and I were at Stanford at around the same time, although hanging in different crowds – she working on her doctorate in Applied Physics while I was over doing the real heavy lifting in the hardest of all sciences, Political Science :-)  

I’ve never met her, unless I don’t recall from old DARPA visits, so I did a tiny bit of surfing to clip a few salient tidbits from her DARPA work.

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